Work In Progress: 4.13

Starting with Secrets and an Upcoming Journey

Lucky for some, this is the thirteenth post about my work in progress, ‘Starting with Secrets’, the sixth Larkspur Mystery. And the news is…

I am currently doing the last read before sending the MS off to be proofed on Friday. Andjela has designed the cover and there will be a reveal in due course. Also on Friday, Neil and I are off to Scotland for our son’s wedding, and I shan’t be at my desk again until November 9th, so expect no more updates to my blog until that week.

The journey to Scotland and back has already taken on epic proportions, in the style of a Clearwater novel actually, or any decent adventure story. All good dramas need conflict because you can’t have one without the other, and although I’m pleased to say we have no villains on our backs, we have already met a few challenges. To start with, KLM managed to charge me three times for one flight, and when we finally sorted it out and I got two refunds, the flight was from the wrong airport. However, we could live with that because although it meant a four-hour train journey on 5th November, the route takes us through the Scottish Highlands. If only it were on a steam train!

If only there wasn’t now the possibility of a train strike on the 5th of November either. We’re not sure yet if that will affect us, but in case it does, we have tickets booked on a coach as well. To add insult to KLM’s injury, they ended up cancelling our flight and moving it to some ridiculous time the following day. This would have meant another night in a costly hotel, plus missing a night already paid for in another, and travelling from two in the morning until about seven that night. I took the refund option and booked better and direct flights with Aegean, my favourite airline. Better times, better service, flexible and fair, though a little more expensive, the difference was less than the cost of the extra hotel.

Living on an island is wonderful; getting off it sometimes isn’t. We were due to leave on Friday evening on a ferry departing at 20.30 or something sensible. Thanks to a strike by some ferry workers yesterday, our boat will fall behind schedule, and now, instead of departing on Friday evening, we’re leaving at 02.50 on Saturday morning. That’ll be a bit of a bleary-eyed experience, but worth it as we will see much of the 18-hour journey in daylight, whereas usually, we sleep through the more interesting destinations.

So, with boats, taxis, trains and possibly coaches, we’ll be getting into Victorian mystery mode as we spend one night here before heading there, and from there, to somewhere else the next day, with only two days where we have a whole day without travelling. During those days, I intend to visit Edinburgh Castle, meet the latest grandchildren, and Neil will be fitted for a kilt. Och aye, it’ll be a fair fun twelve days. Assuming there are no more strikes or cancellations.

Whatever happens, I’ll be back online after 9th November and will give you a full update on Starting with Secrets.

Weak Words Vs Power Words

When do you write the blurb for your publication? I start it as the idea of the book is forming, because giving yourself a rough outline of the main points of the story is important. This, later, becomes the structure of the blurb, the write-up you see on the book’s back cover and/or on the sales pages. To my mind, these things need to be succinct while offering the potential reader an outline of what to expect.  

The Blake Inheritance

I’m going to give you a quote from one of my unusual romance stories, The Blake Inheritance, and here it is in sections:

An inheritance, a ring and a church organ; three clues to the Blake family mystery.
Twenty-five and fleeing a stale relationship, Ryan Blake returns home to find some answers. What he discovers is the impish twenty-two-year-old, Charlie Hatch, a homeless scamp who has a way with words, a love of mysteries, and a very cute arse.
As the two set about unlocking the Blake family secrets, Ryan finds himself falling for the younger guy. But is he ready to commit again? And can Charlie learn to accept that someone loves him?

What we have here is not a synopsis (never write a synopsis as your blurb) but it outlines the story in 91 words. It may not be the best blurb ever written, but it contains all the elements of the story while, I hope, enticing the reader to buy the book, which you can do here:

The Blake Inheritance

“Let us go then you and I, to the place where the wild thyme grows.”

The first line tells us it’s a mystery. The second paragraph tells us the main character, Ryan, is overcoming a problem, meets an impact character (one who will affect a change in the MC) and there’s a hint of something sexy. The last paragraph suggests the love story and the conflict, and that’s all we need to know. Combined with the cover that shows two young men and a lighthouse in a slightly twisted way should add a visual to the blurb. What this blurb doesn’t overdo, though, are the ‘power words.’ Then again, it doesn’t use weak words, and your blurb should be about power, not weakness.

Power Words

What do I mean by power words? Let’s move away from the blurb and look at fuller storytelling. Which sentence tells you more?

Edward went to look.

Edward forced himself to look.

Went is a weak word, forced is a power word; it tells us something about his state of mind and has a clearer meaning than ‘went.’ In this case, we can assume Edward didn’t want to look. Here’s another example taken from my upcoming ‘Starting with Secrets’:

… she said, moving to the stove

… she said, drifting to the stove

I don’t mind ‘moving’ too much because it’s vague and in this scene, ‘she’ is being vague, but ‘moving’ is an opportunity for something better. Here, she drifts to the stove because she is reminiscing as she’s talking, but were she angry, she might stomp, or if she was in a panic she might fly, she might ‘scream her way to’ or ‘bustle to’, ‘stagger in the manner of a drunk toward’ or, if you want to use ‘move’, ‘moved to the stove like a galleon in full sail’, but then, ‘sailed’ would be better, or ‘tacked’, ‘lurched’… In other words, ‘move’ is a weak word, and the others are power words.

Other weak verbs to be wary of include, stand, walk, look, feel, think, said, have, got, go. Example:

He knelt beneath the bell and looked inside.

He knelt beneath the bell and squinted inside.

Squinted suggests poor lighting or eyesight, so it adds more to the scene than looked.

Power Descriptions

As we can replace weak words with more powerful and descriptive ones, and we can improve our writing by looking out for other weak words which are easy to use but can always be bettered. I, for example, now look out for my use of the word ‘it’ because unless the ‘it’ is obviously the thing I am referring to, the word can confuse the reader. Sometimes, when editing, it confuses me, and I have to read back to remind myself what’s being talked about. So, look out for your use of the weak word, ‘it’ and see if it isn’t better replaced by something more specific. Other weak words used in this way include replacements for ‘it’ such as ‘one.’ For example:

Not as public as the one in the cathedral,

Not as public as the plaque in the cathedral,

That’s also from ‘Starting with Secrets’ and the ‘one’ we are referring to, the ‘it’ if you like, was mentioned a few sentences back, and because things have happened in between, ‘one’ might be too vague for the reader. Obviously, there are times when one, it, them, they etc., work, and you don’t want to repeat ‘plaque’ or whatever too many times.

She taught him how to make pastry and roll it.

Makes sense but there was that dreaded ‘it’, and something didn’t feel right. I changed it to:

She taught him how to make and roll pastry. It reads better and makes more sense; it’s not as clunky.

Here’s another way I try and improve my writing by swapping weak words for more powerful ones. This is an actual edit from my first draft to my second. Which do you think is more descriptive?

… but no light appeared at the window.

… but daylight refused to breach the window.

Okay, so I could have gone further: … but daylight refused to breach the grime-encrusted, leaded windowpane that stood as a barrier to the dawn… But let’s not go over the top.

‘Stood’, by the way, is another weak word. Always ask yourself how? How did he stand? How did she move?

Get/got is another one to avoid.

When he got to the junction…

When he arrived, reached, staggered to, fell upon, finally found… the junction. Much more descriptive.

However, when a character is speaking, always write as he or she would speak. Don’t put in unnecessary power words for the sake of it, not in dialogue. A character would be perfectly justified saying, ‘When you get to the junction.’

Word Order

A slight aside, but while editing the next book, I came across this sentence:

… and enjoyed standing beside her drying plates.

There’s nothing better than watching plates dry is there? Why was he standing beside plates that were drying? Why was he enjoying such a dull spectacle?

I changed the line to:

and enjoyed drying plates beside her, which is what I actually meant to say.

I could have improved the initial sentence with a comma, I suppose, but it still felt clunky. … and enjoyed standing beside her, drying plates.


I was trying to think of a way to end this post, and came across another short piece on Before You Publish that included a list of strong, mild and weak words. It’s not that easy to read unless you enlarge it, but I’ve added it to my bookmarks as a resource. You might find it interesting when you are editing. I’ll be back on Wednesday with more news on ‘Starting with Secrets’ my current work in progress.

Work In Progress: 4.12

Starting with Secrets

Three months in and we are nearly there. Neil has been acting as my beta reader, and has read my current draft of ‘Starting with Secrets.’ A beta reader is someone who reads a text before publication to check for errors, and he found only two. I don’t mean typo errors; there will no doubt be several of those when the book gets to the proofreading stage. I mean errors or oddments within the story.

At one point, a character is told that due to a storm it is not possible to send telegrams. A couple of chapters later, on the same night, he tells someone he’s going to send a telegram. How? Was Neil’s question. Ah ha! I’d missed that. I went back to the chapter, and now the character is told he can only send messages up the line, so, when he needs to message London later, he can. Sorted.

The other thing he wasn’t sure about was the ending and how it seemed too sudden. I agreed. I’d written a short section for the end, and although it was a sweet little scene, I wasn’t sure if it should be there or come later in book two of this two-part adventure. After listening to Neil’s reaction, I was right to wonder if this short scene needed to be there, so I took it out. However, that left the ending at even more of a full stop, so I had a think about what I needed… And it came to me. A final scene with someone and someone plotting something which will set them up for the next part of the story when it comes out next year. It reads better now, and I am happy with the ending.

The ending is really the halfway point in a longer adventure, but the book does feel resolved (in part) because a major storyline is resolved. So, although you’ll be left wondering and hanging, you shouldn’t feel hard done by, because something has concluded while something else has not.

All will be revealed next month when I hope to publish ‘Starting with Secrets’, the Larkspur Mysteries book six. Meanwhile, I have time for another read and think before proofing, and before we head off to Scotland for a wedding.

Meanwhile, I have started the detailed plotting of ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, the conclusion to the series, and boy, is it going to be fun!

Starting with Secrets: First Look at the Blurb

I have almost finished Starting, by which I mean ‘Starting with Secrets’, the sixth Larkspur Mystery, is nearing completion. Neil is beta reading it as I write, and Andjela is working on the cover. Meanwhile, I am working on the author’s notes and the blurb ahead of sending it all to be proofread on the 28th.

Because I don’t yet have a cover, I’m including some photos that are relevant to the story to give you a taster of what’s coming.

These are not necessarily shots for the cover. We’ll do a cover reveal nearer the publication date, which should be around the middle of November. That gives you plenty of time to catch up on the rest of the series if you haven’t already started it. You can find all Larkspur Novels on the Amazon Larkspur Mystery series page, and the adventures, which follow the Clearwater Mysteries, begin with ‘Guardians of the Poor.’

What is Starting with Secrets about?

I’m not about to give away the plot, but if you want keywords, then this collection will do:

Mystery (of course), Treasure hunt, Misplaced affection, Twists, Revenge, Childhood memories, Drama, Adventure, History, Humour, Compass, Maps, Clues, and, as usual, Bromance.

The story continues a couple of months after Speaking in Silence.’ There is a new man at the Larkspur Academy, Bertie Trucker, and he’s feeling out of place. Up at Larkspur Hall, Archer, now the Earl of Clearwater, receives a message and a gift; a compass. This sets him and his crew off on an adventure — a treasure hunt of sorts, which can only be completed with the help of the friends and men he has gathered around him since the first Clearwater Mystery began in ‘Deviant Desire.’

This means everyone who has read either series can catch up with their favourite characters, because throughout this book and the next, all main characters from both series will have a role to play. Whether you’re a Fecker fan or a James junkie, an Archer admirer or a Dalston devotee, you will find your man (and woman, for those of us nuts about Mrs Norwood or loopy about Lucy) playing an active role in ‘Starting with Secrets’ and the follow-on book, ‘The Larkspur Legacy’—which I’ve not started writing yet, but will begin very soon.

You see, ‘Starting with Secrets’ is the start of a two-parter, and it starts with a secret, as you might have guessed. I suppose it’s a little Dan Brown-esque in its mixing of fact and fiction, and like one of his great adventure/fact/fiction novels, there is an evil villain keeping pace with and sometimes overtaking the heroes. There is more than one villain, actually, because where Archer has built a solid crew of loyal friends and experts, so the villain needs others to help him realise his evil aims.

Starting with Secrets Blurb

That’s more than enough advanced warning about the story. Here is the first draft of the blurb, the text that will go on the back of the book, and on its Amazon page and other publicity. Bear in mind this is only a draft, and the wording may change, although the story outline won’t.

Starting with Secrets

The Larkspur Mysteries

Book six

“The greatest reward lies at the end of the stoniest path.”

Lady Dorothy Marshall, March 1891

When Lord Clearwater inherits a set of enigmatic clues and a compass, it becomes clear he has the means to uncover a momentous secret. He calls upon the men of the Larkspur Academy to help with the hunt, including the latest recruit, the bewildered ex-sailor, Bertie Tucker.

The academy men investigate follies, national monuments and ancient churches, using their diverse skills to unlock a series of random messages. The men must work together to find Clearwater’s secret and ‘treasure’, but relationships threaten the status quo. Edward Hyde has turned his affections from Henry and aimed them at Bertie Tucker, opening a rift which must be mended if the hunt is to succeed.

And when two of Clearwater’s adversaries conspire to beat him to the secret, what begins as an adventure becomes a game of cat and mouse that leads to a fight for survival.

What Next?

Next come the beta reading, cover design, author’s notes, final blurb, proofreading, proof accepting, internal layout and finally, in about a month, publication.

So, that is where ‘Starting with Secrets’ is starting. The question is, where will it all end?

Work In Progress: 4.11

Starting with Secrets, the Larkspur Mysteries, book six

Today, I will edit the last chapter of ‘Starting with Secrets’, the Larkspur Mysteries book six. I began this book in July, and the first Work in Progress update came at the start of August when I had already written 25,000 words. I was writing it as I was finishing ‘Speaking in Silence’, which has already had some great reviews from readers. As with other recent novels, the book has taken me roughly three months to write, and it is the longest of the Larkspur mysteries so far at around 115,000 words.

I am aiming to have the book out in the middle of November, but before then, here’s my checklist of what needs to happen next:

Neil and Jenine beta-read the manuscript (MS)

I write the blurb and the author’s notes

I have a final read and check for repetitive typos

Andjela has agreed to start on the cover

The MS goes to be proofread on or before 28th October

28th Oct to 9th Nov, nothing happens. I am away.

9th November onwards, MS back from proofing

My final read

Get the ISBN and begin the Amazon setup process

Cover finalised

Files off to be formatted

Final book layout to be checked

Upload to Amazon

And somewhere in there, I will start on ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, the last book in the series. While I am doing that, I will no doubt be tinkering with ideas for ‘Barbary Fleet and Other Matters’ or ‘The Clearwater Companion’, because I have a book in mind that will be a supplement to both series. More about that another time.

For now, it’s time to get some freelance work done before I set about the last chapter’s edits.

Remember, if you’ve not started the Larkspur Mysteries yet, you can find them all on Amazon: The Larkspur Mysteries

Why I Ignore Emails from Book Promotion Companies

I want to tell you about the thing that made me write this article.

The ‘thing’ was an email from a company purporting to offer a book promotion service, something I always ignore. Why? Well, have a look at the following. All I have done is taken out the name of the company; the rest is copied word for word and symbol for symbol. Bear in mind, this email came from people who want me to believe they deal with literature.

*Hey- Jackson Marsh,*
*I hope that you have been enjoying your recent book "Bitter Bloodline" 

**This mail is to introduce you to our "services" of “company name” which can be used to enhance the reach of your book all over the globe.* just upload your book at *company name.*  

*We have 1 Slots  left for the next promotion in the Featured Book Category (High demanding).* *Hurry!!!! Grab your slot now.*


Let me go through the ‘thing’ line by line *starting with* the unnecessary use of ***.

Why? What are they meant to do? Make me think, ‘Oh, that’s pretty, I’ll sign up with this lot right away.’ ? They sent me in the opposite direction before I’d read a line.

*Hey- Jackson Marsh,*
Why the dash?

*I hope that you have been enjoying your recent book “Bitter Bloodline”.*
I published Bitter Bloodline in November 2019, and why should I be enjoying it? Yes, it’s a good read, but I don’t sit around reading my own work three years after I wrote it.
(note from PA, it is a great read but please start with Deviant Desire and work your way through the series to get the very best out of Jackson’s writing)

*This mail is to introduce you to our “services” of “company name

which can be used to enhance the reach of your book all over the globe.*

What are these “services”? Putting any word in quotes that isn’t a quote makes me feel the word doesn’t represent the thing it actually is. For want of a better way of putting it, wrapping a word in quotes makes the word feel pretend. So, “Services” aren’t really services, they’re a sham because this email (not mail btw) is a scam. I’m not sure about enhance the reach of either. My books have heart, but they don’t have arms.

*If You like to register your book on our web portal for more than one year
just upload your book at *company name.*

A few pedantic points here:

If You… why the capital letter? If You like… Where’s the would? … upload your book at… TO. Upload my book TO your spurious web ‘portal’ which, I assume, will send it whizzing off through time and space to land on another planet. Or, more likely, on a pirate website where twats steal authors’ work and give them away, or worse, sell them and make money from other people’s hard graft.

*We have 1 Slots…

See above regarding unnecessary asterixis and inappropriate capital letters, and while you’re about it, take note that we always write numbers from one to ten as words, with ten/10 being optional. One slot, by the way, is singular. 1 Slots, or even one slots is just plain wrong.

…for the next promotion in the Featured Book Category (High demanding).*

You certainly are. What does High demanding mean? Why the stray capital letter? Why is it in brackets?


Don’t get me started on the use of the exclamation mark, let alone four.


Grab your slot now.*

Don’t be so personal.

I mean, honestly. Are we supposed to take this kind of thing seriously? It’s as if I received a letter from the child-catcher from Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang offering to look after my offspring for a day. Or, worse, an email from the UK Tory party asking me to trust them and promising to improve my quality of life.

The message here is simple:

Ignore Emails from Book Promotion Companies

unless it’s a company you know, one that someone you trust has recommended, or one you have researched and found for yourself. Otherwise, offers such as these will only lead to your work being pirated and sold with no income coming to you.

Trustworthy Book Promotion Companies

I use two and have no qualms about using them.

The first is All Author, where you can list your books, grab promotional tools, make memes and gifs, have an interview, pay a little extra for a front-page promotion and other handy things. It’s also a good place for readers to find authors.

As is the second place I use, Queer Romance Ink which is run by the same guys as Other World Ink. OWI does my book layouts for me, and they offer many other author services at affordable prices such as blog tours and reviews.

If you are going to promote your books, I highly recommend those sites, and even more highly recommend you never consider replying to an email from a company offering *“Services!!!!”* Especially those that tell you to grab your slot.

Work In Progress: 4.10

Starting with Secrets

We’re in week ten of the writing of ‘Starting with Secrets’ and I am well into the editing phase. So far, I have trawled through 15 out of 35 chapters looking for repetitions, typos and inconsistencies, while all the time asking myself particular questions. Here’s what I am thinking as I edit:

1          Can I improve that?

2          Is there a better way to write that?

3          Is that how {character} speaks?

4          Do we already know this?

5          Is that character description/behaviour consistent

6          Do I mean discrete or discreet? (And several others)

7          Who on earth wrote this?

The plan now is to have the final draft sent off for proofreading by the 19th of October, the day Neil and I leave to go to Scotland for a wedding. All being well, it will be ready for me when I get back on 9th November. I hope to have the cover ready by then too, and if so, the book should then be ready for release around the week beginning 21st November. Then, it will be onto the next and final Larkspur Mystery, bringing the series to seven, and the combined Clearwater/Larkspur ongoing series to 18 novels. There is still a way to go before then, however, and I still have 20 chapters to edit and check. I’ll have another update for you next Wednesday, and I’ll be here with a weekend blog on Saturday.

The Clearwater and Larkspur Character Illustrations

This week, I took delivery of the illustration that will go at the beginning of ‘Starting with Secrets.’ Since beginning the Larkspur Mysteries series, I have added an illustration at the start of each book because… Well, I’m not sure. When I published ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ I had someone draw me a map of Europe showing the route of the Orient Express, because I thought it would be fun for readers to follow the journey. Previously, I’d engaged an artist to draw some of my characters from photos and add some Victoriana, such as the correct costume. I was doing this for a book I am still considering, ‘The Clearwater Companion, and I’ll tell you about that another time.

What I thought I would do today is put up the collection so far: the collection of illustrations which have been drawn by an artist who lives in India and has a company called DazzlingDezigns. If you click on that link, you will see her page on Fiverr, which is where I was lucky enough to find her. I’ve not been able to commission every main character (and let’s face it, there are a lot of them!), but here, in no particular order, are those who have so far made it into the gallery. There are also a couple of other illustrations which have been used in the Larkspur books and for the cover of ‘Banyak & Fecks.’

You can find all my books on my Amazon page

The Clearwater Mysteries start here

The Larkspur Mysteries start here

I’ll be back on Wednesday with an exciting update about ‘Starting with Secrets.’