Work In Progress: 6.06

The new novel progresses…

Bit by bit, chapter by chapter, the start of a new series is making its way from imagination to keyboard. The characters are developing to the extent that I now don’t like one of them, and the story has just taken an unexpected twist. This twist was of my devising, not one of those where, at the end of a chapter, a character says something out of the blue and I think, ‘Oh! Okay, let’s see where that leads.’ That’s happened to me in the past, but I am more in control these days.

I also know where we are going to be at the end of the book, and that this story needs to lead into the second in the series, and so on. My three main characters, including the one I’m not sure about, know themselves, and I know them, but soon, we’re to have a fourth enter the stage, and he’s going to throw the proverbial cat among the pigeons as we race towards the crisis point.

So, the work-in-progress news this week is that it’s all back to work and going well, and I am aiming to finish a first draft in a couple of weeks.

The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge

Meanwhile, The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge re-working is also coming along at the rate of a couple of chapters per day. I have been through the MS once to improve it, and am now doing a line edit and making more improvements to the writing, not to the story, as that’s staying the same. I only hope that by editing I am not adding in the kind of typos I seek to remove. All being well, Barrenmoor Ridge (the improved recipe) will be re-released in June.

 Queer Romance Ink

Queer Romance Ink

Recently, I was featured on QRI, a place where I list all my books; it’s a kind of ‘gay Goodreads’ you might say, though I never bother with Goodreads, I do bother with QRI, so it was good to get a feature. If you’ve not found this resource yet, you should take a look. Thousands of titles to check out, and loads of new romance authors to meet. They also have a Facebook page to follow. You can see my profile here.

An Earl, a Cart, and a Midnight Journey

The original Chapter 42 from The Larkspur Legacy

Continuing my theme of publishing never-before-seen sections of the Clearwater and Larkspur mysteries, here is the original draft of Chapter 42 of The Larkspur Legacy. If you’ve read the book, you will know when this section was meant to go; if you haven’t, it comes after a storm and before the climax.

Realising the book was running at over 175,000 words, I had to make cuts, and this scene, although fun to imagine, didn’t serve much of a purpose. There’s a fair amount of internal thought/exposition in it which I later took out and placed in pieces elsewhere, and the adventure could quite easily happen off-stage. In other words, it wasn’t necessary and was something of a filler, so it had to go.

As with the other cuts and unused parts of my novels I present here, this is a first draft and hasn’t been proofread. Let’s call it An Earl, a Cart, and a Midnight Journey…

A man and his horse deliver the mail by cart, Stock Photo – credit: AgeFotoStock


Prussia Cove

Archer was woken from a fitful sleep by someone shaking his arm. Opening bleary eyes, it took him a moment to remember where he was and the name of the pink-cheeked, blond man crouching at his side.

‘It is dark, Sir,’ Clem said. ‘We can leave as soon as you be ready. It be a fair way, so the sooner we’re on the road, the better it be.’

‘I am at your command, Mr Carter. Give me five minutes.’

‘I’ve loaded the cart with some straw and some blankets,’ Clem said, standing and stretching his back. ‘You be best with your coat. It be dried by the fire now. If ye be hungry, there be bread and such beneath the canvas.’

‘Canvas? Are we to sail to Bodmin?’

‘Would it were that easy,’ Clem said, and took a rain cape from a peg. ‘Mr Hawkins said plain there were a chance of you being followed or watched, and them as might be doing it weren’t a be trusted. I made arrangements to get you there without being seen, but it ain’t a be pleasant. Only other way be to risk the night train and the chance of a cab at the other end, but that won’t be safe enough. Be quick now, Sir, we’ve many miles a cover tonight.’

Archer gathered what few things he had, and when they were both ready, Clem extinguished the lanterns bar one and led the way outside. The wind had dropped, but the night air remained cold, and was penetrated by an overriding smell of damp grass. There were few stars between the mottled clouds, themselves fading to black as the last of the dusk withered behind hills, and to the south, there were only a few lights from passing ships.

‘You best be in the back, Sir,’ Clem said, lifting his lantern to show Archer where he was to travel.

It was a cart drawn by two horses that were merely shapes in the gloom. Archer regarded the rough boards, the crates and boxes, and the canvas, secured at the sides but open at the back.

‘It’ll cover you, but you’ll have a be laying down.’

‘I see.’

It was not the way the earl was accustomed to travelling, and for the first time on his journey, he silently cursed Lady Marshall for setting him the challenge. Being at sea had, at first, revived his passion for being aboard ship, but later, once boredom and the storm set in, his enthusiasm had waned. Now, clambering into the back of a delivery man’s cart and taking up a position he was to keep for several hours, he wondered why the old ladies couldn’t have come up with something less tiresome.

‘Just bang the backboard if ye needs anything,’ Clem said. ‘I’ll tie this lose so it won’t blow about, and you can undo it if ye must. I got a change the horses outside Truro and agin at Lanivet, but everything be in order fur that.’

‘How long?’

‘Will have to see what the livery gives us, but I be reckoning on six or seven hours, Sir. I’ll take them as fast as I can, but don’t want a draw no attention. Mr Hawkins wrote there be someone watching Larkspur, so we’ll not be coming up the drive when we get there.’


‘You’ll see, Sir. Right, head down. Get back to sleep if ye can.’

Surprisingly, Archer could. He’d dozed during the afternoon, warmed by the fire until his insides no longer felt like ice, but after three days weathering the storm, his body was more tired than he realised.

Waking when the cart stopped, he had no idea where they were until he heard Clem’s voice on the other side of the canvas.

‘They’s not as sturdy as this team. They be the best you got, Denzel?’

‘Aye, me ’ansome, that’s the best I can be giving ye.’

‘I seen more meat on dead dog. Ah, well if this be it, then this be it.’

The cart dropped, and Archer became squashed against the backboard, until, grunting and swearing, Clem and his livery man lifted the stocks, and another pair of horses shuffled into place with their brasses clanking.

‘Be off, then, I will,’ Clem said at length. ‘I’ll have them back in a day or so.’


The journey began again, and when Archer judged they were away from the stable, he kicked the crates away, and resumed his position. There was no chance of sleep after that. Not only were the new horses slow, but they were also cumbersome, and he could tell Clem was having difficulty keeping them straight. It would have been much easier to take a train, or even ride home, but Silas’ warning had been clear. At least, it had been clear to Archer. To anyone else, the prose printed in the Egyptian newspaper would read as nonsense.

Vanished be the one who once wore ‘Amore Salvat’ like a dream, the message said. It was a reference to the ring Simon Harrington had given Archer when they were lovers, and the same as the one he had gifted Silas. For what’s left behind may not here come with thee. A hidden legacy was what his mother had left behind, and thus, the ship could not land with Archer aboard. The part about dust to dust meant that Archer could pretend to be lost at sea if that was necessary, and Silas would tell the others it was a pretence. But know this: the crew has oiled the wheels, and those wheels are turning. Silas had put in place a plan, and everyone knew, including Clem, now singing to himself as though happy to be driving through the night in December.

The rest of the strange publication suggested Silas intended to put a stop to Kingsclere before Archer returned, and that was the part that concerned him most. There was no way of telling what Kingsclere would do to steal the treasure, and as that was not yet found, there was no way of knowing how desperate or frustrated the earl had become. With madmen like Tripp and who knew who else working against them, Silas might put himself in danger without thinking of the consequences.

‘No might about it,’ Archer said, his mind now turning to what he would find when he was home.

The crew would have reached Larkspur by the early evening, and Mario Ricci would now be back aboard the Legacy with Captain Kent. There was work to do, and he would be with Bertie Tucker again, for a short while at least. What happened when the ship was ready to sail, and Kent had decided what to do with her, was an unknown, but the Legacy probably wouldn’t put to sea again until after winter.

Silas, meanwhile, would be waiting at Larkspur, ready to bring Archer up to date on events. Where was Jimmy? He and Andino had had plenty of time to get to Athens and back, and what of Tom?

There was much to contemplate, and by doing so, he hoped he might again induce sleep. It was creeping towards him some hours later when the cart turned and stopped.

‘I hope you know what time it is,’ a disgruntled voice said.

‘Aye, be coming on three. You’ll get your money.’

‘But I won’t get me sleep, will I?’

‘You know what me grandfader use a say, Mr Nance?’

‘No, and I don’t care to, neither.’

‘He used to say you can sleep when you be dead. Now, help me get this tack off, and I hope you got a better team than these two scragabouts. Taken hours here from Denzel’s.’

‘That ain’t surprising. What you want a be using him fur?’

The discussion about horses, liveries and midnight journeys continued as the harnesses clattered, the cart tipped, Archer suffered laying in a silent heap while Clem went off and, by the sound of it, relieved himself. The smell of wet canvas started to get the better of him, and he was on the verge of giving himself away with a sneeze, when the cart tipped back, and the men tethered the next team. The noise gave him a cover, but it still wasn’t a quiet a sneeze as he would have liked.

‘What were that?’

‘One of your nags letting air,’ Clem said. ‘I be back wi’e, in a few days, like I said.’

‘Aye, and make sure it ain’t three o’clock in the fucking morning, Carter. Be on yer way, and don’t give them too much feed. These two blow chronic.’

‘Wouldn’t expect nothing better, Mr Nance. God be with’e.’

The trundling, clattering and repetitive clomping began again, and Archer tried to think of things other than what he might find at home.

It proved an impossible task. Andrej should now be with Lucy, but there had been no news of her condition. There was a wedding coming up, assuming the poor woman had recovered from whatever ailment she suffered, and there would be a child in the house, assuming it had survived. As Mr Tanner had confirmed his translation while abord the Legacy, there should be three new leads on the chalkboard, but still the fourth clue to understand, unless Silas or Tom had had any luck. Silas might not be there. Jimmy might have taken on Kingsclere hand-to-hand and been…

Sleep overcame him, and when he woke, he was grateful for it, because his thoughts had been straying to the worst, but once more awake, he directed them to the point of his godmother’s quest.

‘To give you the grand tour you never took,’ someone had said, and it might have been Tom.

‘Because she and your mother liked puzzles and knew you do too,’ had been another suggestion, but there was a deeper reason, and it had something to do with Lady Marshall’s original letter.

To distract himself from the numbing in his legs and the pain in his back, the stink of canvas and flatulent horses, he though back and strained his memory.

The letter had called it his mother’s ‘hidden treasure’, but his godmother had not told him what it was, even though she could have done so in five words.

‘A stash of Romanian gold,’ he mused counting the words on his fingers. ‘The crown jewels of Hungary.’ Unlikely. ‘Complete ownership of Rasnov Castle.’ What would he want with that, and why keep it a secret?

No, it had to be something darker than that, and, being transported in darkness like a tea chest had not put him in the mood for dark thoughts. They could stay at the back of his mind, but they were hammering to be released.

There was too much to think about, too many unknowns, and pondering them would do him no good.

Without a lamp, he was unable to see the time, and not wanting to annoy Clem, he daren’t ask, but he wasn’t even sure what day it was, let alone how far they were from Larkspur.

‘Well, this is a fine kettle of fish,’ he whispered, because talking kept him amused. ‘The Earl of Clearwater discovered packed in with crates, being delivered to his home in style… There is a good reason.’

There was. His safety, and it was not only at the front of Silas’ mind when he wrote his coded prose, but also in the minds of the academy men and his friends. Even cherishing what his crew of young, loyal men, and Mrs Norwood, had done for him was not enough to keep the dark thoughts from escaping their metaphorical cage.

Hard though it was to imagine one of Kingsclere’s men lying in wait for him at the Hall, it was easier to imagine Adelaide. Discovering Archer ‘lost at sea’ or in some other way not aboard the ship that was no longer his, the inspector would have flown into a rage of frustration. Hopefully, Andrej had taken the advice and blustered as Archer had shown him how, and Kent had stood his ground. Even if not, Adelaide would still be after Archer’s blood. What little news had made it to the Egyptian papers had suggested as much, and the inspector’s desire for arrest had been compounded, no doubt, by Kingsclere’s determination to destroy Archer’s good name.

That was another dark thought to be shoved in the cage at the edge of his mind. The bars were bulging, and the lock in danger of cracking when the sound of the cartwheels changed, the horses slowed, and he heard Clem call them to a halt, before he said, ‘What you doing here?’

‘Morning, Mr Carter,’ was the reply, and it was a voice Archer recognised. ‘We thought it better if I showed him the way. Besides, Trevik has to get to his fields.’

‘Aye. Been some damage. You be lucky you missed the worst of it.’

‘I didn’t. I be fair freezing, Trevik. Be there a chance of cocoa from your mother’s stove.’

A laugh was followed by. ‘Always fur you, Carter. Get unloaded, and I’ll take ye inside. Art can do the rest. You brought your delivery, have’e?’

Archer was starting to think he’d been forgotten, but the canvas was whipped away revealing a sky glittering with a million stars, and, when he struggled to sit up and looked over the edge, Clem, Trevik Pascoe and his second footman, Art, were gawping at him by lanternlight.

‘Good morning, gentlemen,’ he said, trying to summon a sense of normality. ‘I assume I am at Far Farm.’

‘Aye, here you be, My Lord,’ Pascoe said. ‘And glad we are a see ye. I’ve hot water on if you be in need.’

‘Let me help you, Your Lordship.’

Art, to his credit, said nothing about Archer’s scraggy appearance, his crumpled overcoat, straggly beard and smell, as he helped him from the back of the cart, but he did suggest Mr Holt was already up and about and would have a hot bath ready.

‘That is kind of you,’ Archer said, his feet stinging when they hit the ground and his legs weak from lack of blood. ‘I assume we are to walk?’

‘After you’ve had a cup of tea,’ the young footman replied.

‘Aye, Sir, come inside and be warm a while. It’s a fair clamber through them tunnels to your cellar.’

‘Ah yes,’ Archer said, remembering how Pascoe used to take them to visit Art in secret. ‘You really are following in your ancestors’ footsteps, Mr Carter. Smuggling me into my own home.’

‘Best be safe, Sir,’ Pascoe said. ‘There’s been a stranger on the moor many nights, and Art says he means you harm. Quick. Inside now.’

‘I’ll have you home before dawn, Sir,’ Art said, taking Archer’s arm to guide him. ‘There’s lot to tell you.’

Work in Progress: 6.05

The First of a New Series

After three weeks away from the new book with the working title of ‘471 Kingsland Road’, I am now back to putting down words. Progress is slow but I have managed a couple of chapters this week, and have all day today to press on with another. It’s coming together slowly, though I am still aware that what I am writing now might actually be a prequel to the start of the series, in the way ‘Banyak & Fecks’ was a prequel to the Clearwater Mysteries. What ‘471’ is turning out to be is character creation, an exploration of ideas, and the putting together of possibilities. It is still telling a story and a good one, and it is a valuable exercise.

It’s proving interesting to start something new, and difficult to leave behind the characters and themes that I’ve lived with since starting Clearwater late in 2018. Five years in the same world is hard to leave behind, so I have an inkling that I won’t actually be leaving it behind entirely.

‘471’ started off as an idea to write something that took place at the same time as Deviant Desire, but now I am thinking it might take place just after the last of the Larkspur series, starting in 1892 (instead of 1888). There’s a reason for this, and, if all goes according to the latest plan, there will be a twist just over halfway through the story which, I hope, will delight readers of Clearwater and Larkspur. That’s the current thinking, and the idea is taking shape and appealing more than my original idea, which was to have a completely separate series set around the same time.

I’ll say no more about that, but will leave it vague because I am still developing ‘471’ and what it might lead to. You’ll hear my thoughts on it as it progresses, so keep calling back to the Wednesday WIP to follow progress. Meanwhile, the Saturday blogs from now on will be a development of The Clearwater Companion, with interviews, images, unpublished sections, chapters and other background things to accompany Clearwater and Larkspur. This, I hope, will see me through the Saturday blogs of summer, and in the winter, when we have more time, we’ll return to interviews with other authors and blogs about research.

The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge

While all this is going on, I am continuing to revise The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge for its second edition and I have to say, I’m enjoying the process immensely. I am on the final edit of all 21 chapters and saving up to have the book professionally laid out ahead of a re-release in a few weeks’ time.

I’ll be back on Saturday with another page of The Clearwater Companion.

Photo: A hackney carriage waits at the end of a long row of horse-drawn hansom cabs facing the striking round portico and spire of All Soul’s Anglican Church on Langham Place at the north end of Regent Street.

Cut: The Larkspur Legacy

And The Clearwater Companion

Today, and now and then from now on, I am going to put up parts of the Clearwater and Larkspur series that were cut from the final publications. It’s probably best if you only read these after you have read the book in case there are any spoilers. Eventually, there will be a separate area on my site for these outtakes, and for other material that was/is destined for ‘The Clearwater Companion.’ I’ve decided that putting my energy into producing the companion for print will take me away from what I want to do when I get back to a new series in a week or so. Thus, over time, I’ll work to build up the companion online, so anyone can access it for free.

Meanwhile, it’s a rather long chapter that never was, but here is what was to be chapter twenty of ‘The Larkspur Legacy.’ In a nutshell, Dalston, Joe and Andrej are travelling across Europe to meet the boat but must make a stop in Vienna, where Andrej has been called by his father who works for the Emperor.

Note: This is the first draft and hasn’t been proofed. Some of what happens here is related later in the book by Bertie Tucker, which, I thought was a better way of telling this part of the story.



DAY 10 of the Legacy voyage

Brought up in the workhouse, Dalston Blaze never imagined he would one day cross the channel on a steamer, ride a train to Paris, travel on night sleepers, or roll through the European countryside, let alone visit Vienna. The journey had taken four days, during which he had gazed from the window marvelling at the different styles of buildings when the train pulled into towns and cities, steamed through tunnels, and crossed land both flat and mountainous. During it, when not examining platforms for anyone who might be looking for them, he had sketched and read.

Joe had been doing the same, studying his ancient Egyptian writing, and pondering over Lord Clearwater’s clue. Keen to see the country they were making for, he was less interested in the scenery and more in the history and customs of where they were going once Mr Andrej had completed his business. The hours between changes, he spent flicking through a book, turning the words into images in his silent mind, and now and then showing Dalston something of interest. A pyramid, a thing called a sphinx, tombs and columns, but also drawings of strange creatures; a man with a hawk’s head, crocodiles, and, the image of their clue, a man with the head of a jackal. On one page of his book there was a plate, and when he showed that to Dalston, it chilled his blood. “Anubis,” the caption read, “God of Death.”

At that point, Dalston said he’d seen enough, and turned to Mr Andrej for conversation, asking where they were, and if they had to change trains again that day.

The Ukrainian had made the journey a few times before and knew exactly which train to catch from where, when to change and where to stay on the two nights they had broken the journey. At those times, he had been vigilant when sending their location back to Larkspur, but so far, they hadn’t noticed anyone on their tail.

Mr Andrej had also spent time looking at a small portrait Dalston had made of his intended, and not long after they’d left Paris, said, ‘What shall we call him?’

‘What?’ Joe signed, and when Dalston translated, signed, ‘She is a woman, and she has a name. Lucy.’

‘I think he means the child.’

‘He knows it’s a boy? How?’

‘Da, will be a boy,’ Mr Andrej said when Dalston explained. ‘I feel this.’

‘Have you talked about names? Andrej, perhaps?’

‘Would be find name, da, but, Miss Lucy says she already has one child called Andrej. Maybe, I call him Danylo, for my brother.’

‘Or Daniel, if he is to be British born.’

‘Is idea, da.’

The conversation had been repeated several times, both while traveling and when they stopped in a city to wait and send word back to London. On the nights they booked into a hotel, they stayed long enough for a reply to come back from Mrs Norwood.

Your message sent on to LH. W just left as planned. God speed.

Messages, Mr Hawkins had said, were to be as brief as possible, and as carefully written in case they somehow fell into enemy hands, but it didn’t take much for Dalston to work out that news of their journey was being sent to Larkspur and that Mr Wright, Frank and Chester had left for Greece and Egypt. Although leaving a few days after the Egypt party, so as to make tracking more difficult for Kingsclere, Chester would overtake them somewhere on their route, because he was joining an escorted tour that left France with a party of tourists and took them across the sea to Alexandria. There, he would leave the group, and, with any luck, vanish into his own people and set about his preparations unnoticed. Before the parties left London, Mrs Norwood had suggested they memorise their routes and arrival times, so every man knew where he had to be by when, but Dalston hadn’t been up to that challenge, and instead, wrote the journeys in symbols in his sketchbook. By his reckoning, as the train slowed to arrive in Vienna, James and Frank would be two days away from London, at the point where Chester was to leave them and make his way to the coast in the south of France. From Marseilles, he would travel with the Cook’s escorted tour directly to Alexandira, and if anyone was watching him, he would be able to pick them out with ease from among the well-to-do and rich; the only people who could afford the ticket. At the same time, according to his notes, the Legacy would be sailing east towards Genoa while Chester’s steamer cut across in front of it. A few days ahead of them, prehaps, but it was the same sea, and the crossing routes made for an interesting pattern in his mind.

Also, according to his notes, they were to spend no more than three days in Vienna before taking a complicated journey to meet the ship. Chester had shown them the route on one of his maps, and said it was one thousand miles by road, a figure Dalston couldn’t comprehend, but they had eleven days to reach the port, and he wasn’t unduly worried. They would probably take trains, and make more stops, however, because there was no rush, and apart from putting Kingsclere off their scent, Dalston was keen to see Venice, San Marino and other places he had never dreamt of seeing.

From the workhouse to this, he thought, as he closed his book and, began to gather his things.

‘You thinking what?’ Joe asked, after waving in his face.

‘Nothing. Just setting the journey in my head.’

‘Nearly there.’

‘Yeah. Pack up.’

No matter how exquisite the décor in a first-class carriage, there was nothing better than the relief of standing up after hours of sitting down. Dalston stretched his long legs, and, as the other two found their bags, and Mr Andrej scoured the carriage just in case, Dalston lowered the window to watch the approaching platform.

The locomotive made a great fuss of slowing, emitting groans and huffs as if it wanted those on the platform to know it had done a masterful deed and dragged these people all the way from Munich without stopping, when, in fact, it had stopped several times. He ducked back inside to avoid a cloud of steam, and when he looked again, through the last of the mist, he saw yet another sight he never thought a boy from the Hackney spike would ever witness.

Two liveried men stood on the platform, upright, arms behind their backs and their heads held erect. There was nothing new in seeing servants stand in that way, all the waiters in London did it, but these men weren’t waiters. They were dressed in yellow tailcoats finely adorned with thick, gold braid on the inner sleeves and the lapels, and beneath, they wore grey waistcoats with buttons that sparkled in the sunlight. A beam of it fell through the station roof as if specifically designed to highlight them, and left the other passengers gawping in shadow. The men had dark blue breeches to high stockings, and flat, black shoes beneath. They were several steps up even from Mr Nancarrow’s fine livery, but at least the Larkspur butler didn’t have to wear a wig of the last century.

‘Blood hell,’ Dalston said as the carriage stopped directly in front of the pair. ‘There’s some right nob on this train, and no mistake.’

The mistake was his.

Mr Andrej said something that sounded like a swear word, and added, ‘Why?’

‘Is the emperor aboard?’ Joe signed with a shrug.

‘Must be.’ Dalston looked along the tops of the seating, but saw no-one else rising. He assumed it was bad form for anyone to leave the carriage before the Emperor, and so hung back, but when Mr Andrej swore again and opened the door, it dawned on him these men were there to meet them.

‘I told them we stay hotel this night,’ Mr Andrej said, standing back to usher Joe onto the platform first. ‘Why they do this? My father has sent them…’

Dalston stepped down next, leaving Mr Andrej mumbling behind, and as soon as the Ukrainian set foot on the stone, the two footmen snapped their heels together as suddenly as they jerked their heads down and up. Expressionless, one raised his arm to direct the party to the station exit, and the situation became even more strange when onlookers stood aside to let them pass. One footman, as Dalston assumed they were, walked ahead with the three of them in the middle and the other uniformed man behind, and it reminded him of being marched to the cells in Newgate prison.

‘We are shit at being secret,’ Joe signed as they walked, and his hand movements caused people to stare, worsening the spectacle.

‘Just follow, and keep your head down,’ Dalston signed. ‘At least no-one’s going to attack us when we have an escort.’

‘For Mr Andrej?’

‘Must be.’


‘Because he’s the son of a baron, and his father’s high up in the court. Weren’t you listening?’

‘Very funny.’

‘Oh shit. Is worse.’ It was Mr Andrej who said that, and when he was led from the station and into the sunlight, Dalston saw why.

The footman led them to a carriage, but one unlike any Dalston had seen. Bowl-shaped, the body sat high above four wheels, the back one larger than the front, and its top was adorned with fancy gold leaves pointing skywards. It had gold trim around its windows, large, ornate lanterns, and a crest on the door. Even the wheel spokes were trimmed with gold, and the two horses wore plumes, with their manes braided. They were held by another liveried man, this one wearing a cloak and tall hat, and holding a whip. He also bowed sharply when Mr Andrej approached, and one of the footmen opened the door, inviting the men inside. It was only then that Dalston realised they’d not collected their luggage.

‘Our bags?’ he said, but Mr Andrej wasn’t listening, he was trying to ask the footman something, but the man made no reply.

‘Not speak English,’ Joe signed.

‘Our bags?’


Porters arrived with their belongings and began loading them onto the back of the carriage where one of the footmen secured them.

‘We go,’ Mr Andrej said, and bent to climb aboard.

With no other option, Dalston followed, and took a place on velvet-lined seats, where furs had been provided against the cold air.

‘We go where?’ Joe signed, and Mr Andrej told them they were in an imperial carriage, so they were being taken to a place called Hofburg.

‘Is that a town?’

‘Nyet. Is where my father works and lives. Why he send this?’

Dalston’s guess was as good as anyone else’s. ‘To surprise you?’ he suggested.

‘Is big surprise, da.’ Mr Andrej smiled. ‘I write to tell him when we come, and I have two friends. Maybe he want to meet you.’

‘Maybe they’ll drop us at the hotel,’ Dalston said as the carriage set off.

It glided over the cobbles as though someone had put down carpet, and, as it took its leisurely pace through wide streets, he was able to admire the buildings. They passed a large park on one side, and four-storey houses on the other which became grander the further they rode. Well-dressed pedestrians stopped to stare in, as if they were expecting to see royalty, while others ignored the carriage and went about their business of parading beneath parasols, or wrapping shawls tighter as they sat outside street cafes sipping from delicate cups.

They had just passed a square with a statue in the centre, when Joe signed he wanted to ask Mr Andrej something.

‘Da, what?’

‘He wants to know why you don’t live here,’ Dalston interpreted. ‘Why, if your father is a baron in the Royal Austrian court, do you work as a groom in England? Sorry if he is being a bit personal.’

‘Nyet, Vohon.’ Mr Andrej was still smiling, and it broadened when he used his nickname for Dalston which, he’d said, translated as Fire. ‘I will tell him. I am not groom, I am Master of the Larkspur Horse, and I live where I live because I love Geroy, and I love my Lucy. I have my friends at home, so why I want to come and be here? You see how they treat me. Is embarrassment.’

‘But your father is here.’

‘Da. But this I not know until nearly two years ago.’

Dalston explained to Joe, who had been reading Mr Andrej’s lips, but he still wasn’t satisfied.

‘Joe asks a lot of questions, sorry,’ he said. ‘He doesn’t understand how you ended up working for Lord Clearwater when you came from abroad, and why you don’t now live in a palace with your father.’

If Mr Andrej was annoyed by the intrusion, he didn’t show it. He placed one of the furs over his knees, and rested back into the plush.

‘Is long story, Mr Joe,’ he said. ‘I leave my homeland when I was younger, I think fourteen, maybe not. My father… The man I thought was my father was dead. So was my mother, and my sisters and brothers, maybe. I not know. Our neighbour, Yakiv Blumkin, he tries to take me away from Russians who are killing our people, but I say, no. I go my own way. I come to England on ship with Captain Kent, who is now with Geroy on sea. I meet Banyak… Mr Hawkins. We meet Geroy, he gives us job. Then, January last year, I go with Pianino long way to Rasnov. Is in Transylvania, and we stop in Vienna where Mr Blumkin is, but he is not Mr Blumkin the neighbour, he is Baron Kubinsky of Judenburg, and he is in high position in court because his title puts him there. He tells me… He shows me he is my real father. But, I stay with Geroy, and I have Miss Lucy, and I have friends, like you have Joe, and I am happy where I am. Now, that is enough, questions, Mr Joe.’ He glanced from the window. ‘We are there in minute.’

Dalston had kept up with the translation as best he could, but it wasn’t easy when Joe interrupted him asking who Pianino was and what was Transylvania, which Dalston didn’t know how to spell. Pianino was Jasper Blackwood, he explained, the pianist, and he couldn’t say why they had made the trip, but all he and Joe needed to know was they were probably being taken to meet an important man, and Joe had to behave himself.

‘Me?’ Joe gaped. ‘Fuck off.’

Dalston grinned. ‘We never know, someone there might speak our language.’

‘Not likely. How long we stay?’

‘Two days.’

‘Why? We have lots of time. Maybe we stay longer?’

‘No. We have a schedule.’

‘But look…’ Joe pointed from the window. ‘All this. You draw. Look there, museum… and there, big church. No hurry to get to boat. We have ten days.’

‘What he saying?’

‘Joe wants us to stay in Vienna longer than we should. He thinks we have plenty of days before we need to be in Italy.’

‘Da, Mr Joe is right, but we must do what we are told. Jimmy knows best. I see my father today, tomorrow, and after, we start again on journey. We stay in one place too long, the svolochi find us easy. Safer is, we go in two days. Da?’

Dalston wasn’t going to argue with him, but Joe wanted to. However, their entry into a large, open courtyard put paid to more questions, because there was nothing else to do but stare in awe at their surroundings. After passing through a columned gatehouse, the carriage took a graceful curve, following a line of arches supporting columns that in turn supported a balustrade four floors up, beneath which were tall windows in a classically fronted, semi-circular building of immense size.

‘Fancy house,’ Joe signed as if he was bored, when his wide eyes betrayed what he really thought.

The carriage pulled up beneath another arch, where the weakening sunlight was supplemented by flaming torches, and Dalston waited for Mr Andrej to move first. The horse master himself waited until one of the footmen had opened the door, and Dalston assumed that was the form. Once the step was lowered, Mr Andrej ducked out, and they were met by another man wearing a military uniform who greeted them with the customary snap of head and heels.

‘Herr Blumkin, welcome,’ he said in English, but offered no hand to shake. ‘I trust you had a good journey.’

‘Was long,’ Mr Andrej replied.

‘Of course. I am Herr Gruber, assistant to Von Kubinsky. Your father waits for you in his chambers. You will stay at the palace, Sir, and I will show you up, but perhaps you would like your companions taken to the hotel. I can arrange it.’

‘Nyet. Why am I here?’

The man, no older than thirty, Dalston thought, but assured and upright, twitched at the bluntness.

‘Your father’s request, Sir. I will explain on the way.’

‘Nyet. Now.’

The man faltered. ‘Perhaps it would be best if your friends returned…’

‘Nyet. They stay with me.’

That time, Herr Gruber both faltered and twitched, his confidence waning. ‘As you wish, Sir,’ he managed. ‘They might wait outside the baron’s rooms.’

‘What is wrong?’


Mr Andrej growled in his throat. ‘You not tell me why we come here. You want rid of my friends. What is wrong?’

‘It really would be best if we were alone…’

‘Gruber, you say?’

‘Yes, Sir. Assistant to…’

‘Gruber. I not go anywhere without these two. They are under my protection. They stay with me. That is that. Now, why my father call me here straight from stinking train? We are hungry, we are tired, and we want rest. Find them rooms with me, but first, tell me. What is wrong?’

Gruber had paled, but waved a gloved hand and said something to the footmen who unloaded the bags and passed them to two more servants who had appeared from inside.

‘Please, come with me,’ Gruber said, and showed the party into a hallway.

It was not like any hallway Dalston had encountered. Their shoes squeaked on a marble floor as they entered something as large as the refectory at the Hackney workhouse. A massive stone staircase climbed to a gallery and split either side, with chandeliers hanging low from a ridiculously high ceiling. White and gold painted doors led to who knew where, and the walls were covered with paintings of uniformed officials, and women in glittering gowns. For all its grandeur, however, the entrance was cold, and Dalston chilled further when it dawned on him that Mr Andrej had demanded they stay the night in a royal palace.

Joe nudged him, and signed, ‘Fuck’ with his jaw dropped, but remained still when Dalston glared.

‘Before we go up, there is something I must tell you,’ Gruber said, one eye on the servants disappearing with cases. ‘Your father called for you because he is not well. He was keen to…’

‘What you mean, not well?’

‘I mean he is ill, Sir. Gravely ill.’

Gruber dragged out his words to give them weight, and Mr Andrej’s pallor soon resembled that of the official.

‘I must be honest with you, Sir. Your father, although sound of mind, is very week of body. The physicians have suggested your visit is timely. A few days later, and you may have been too late.’

Mr Andrej said nothing, but marched past Grubber to the stairs, and began to climb. Gruber, protesting, followed, leaving Dalston and Joe with no choice but to do the same. There was no time to explain to Joe what was happening, but Gruber had spoken slowly, and his English was good. Joe had probably read his lips, because he, too, looked grave as they took the stairs, following Mr Andrej’s ever-quickening pace.

‘My father is in his rooms?’

‘Yes, Sir, but please, we must ask the nurse if…’

‘We ask nothing. Why he not tell me this before?’

‘He was reluctant to inform you at all, Sir, for fear of upset. It was me who insisted you be called.’

‘You were right.’

‘I am glad you agree, Sir. To the left here.’

‘I know where my father lives,’ Mr Andrej yapped, and led them into a wide, heavily decorated corridor where windows overlooked a manicured garden.

‘Of course, Sir. Please…’ Grubber managed to slow the tall Ukrainian by placing a hand on his arm. ‘Quietly and slowly. We must ask the nurse if it is a suitable time to visit.’

Having passed through one set of double doors, Mr Andrej came to a halt outside another, his urgency evaporated, and his shoulders slumped.

‘Will you wait here, Herr Blumkin?’

‘Da,’ was all Mr Andrej said, and he turned away from the doors as if not wanting to see what lay beyond when Gruber slipped into the room.

‘Can we help?’ Dalston said.

Mr Andrej shook his head. ‘Sickness, I am used to,’ he said. ‘But this, I was not expecting. Why? Every time, why?’

Dalston could only shrug when Joe asked him what that meant, and seeing Mr Andrej’s distress, knew it wasn’t the time to enquire.

The servants appeared with the cases, but kept their heads down as they passed, and entered a room further along the passage in silence.

Dalston and Joe were under Mr Andrej’s protection, but at that moment, it felt as if the situation had been reversed. Mr Andrej, usually so assured and dignified, was trembling, and his eyes had moistened.

‘Would you like us to come in with you?’ Dalston whispered.

The big man turned to him, glanced at Joe, and beckoned them close. ‘Vohon,’ he said, and grabbed Dalston’s hand. ‘I not want you to come in with me. I need you come in with me. Please?’

Work In Progress: 6.04

The news this week is that work in progress isn’t progressing. Instead, I have moved on to go back, and am re-editing ‘The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge’, as I mentioned on Saturday. Although I’m not in a very creative place, I thought I should be doing something, so, I have returned to Barrenmoor to give it a rewrite. Not substantially; the story remains the same, as do the characters, it’s the language I am tidying up.

It’s odd to do this, because I rarely reread what I have already published, but it’s part of the learning process to do so. I’m amazed, and a little embarrassed at how many sentences start with ‘He’, or worse, ‘He saw’ or ‘He heard…’ This, to me now, is lazy writing. Often, there’s no need to say He and no need to say ‘He saw/heard,’ and certainly not, ‘He felt…’ When you change such things, you force yourself into the character’s shoes. We know whose point of view the scene is from, so we can assume everything is coming from within, and overusing ‘He’ leads to me, the writer, telling the reader what’s going on, and not showing them what’s going on, which is the better way of telling a story because it brings the reader closer to the character.

That’s just one example of how I am reworking Barrenmoor, one of my more popular books, and there are others I’ll return to at another time. For now, I’ll continue to edit, rework, improve, and tidy up, using the X number of years’ worth of experience since I wrote it to guide me. After that, I should be in a place where I can return to the creation of a new series and ‘471 Kingsland Road’, which is currently waiting for me at around the 35,000-word mark.

Return to Barrenmoor Ridge

Today, I want to say that it’s fine to improve your own work no matter when it was written or published.

The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge’ is my age-gap, MM romance-thriller set on the side of a Derbyshire fell in bad weather and was released in January 2018.

In terms of Kindle sales, this is my 4th best-selling title. In terms of page reads through Kindle Unlimited, it’s the 7th, and in terms of income, it’s the 6th. Above it are the first four Clearwater novels and ‘Guardians of the Poor.’

The ‘Barrenmoor Ridge’ blurb begins thus:

Following the death of his lover, mountaineer John Hamilton lives an isolated existence high on wild Fellborough peak. When he rescues 19-year-old Gary Taylor from the mountain, John can't accept that the boy may be the answer to his heartache. Gary is seventeen years his junior, confused, and being pursued by criminals.   

A while ago, my PA suggested I did some tidying up on ‘The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge,’ particularly the first few chapters. This was one of my first novels, and I was then, as I am now, still learning the craft.

The other day, I thought I’d drop into it, improve what I can, and eventually, have a second edition which is the same, but more polished.

I had actually started this task some time ago but got no further than the first half a page, because the Larkspur Mysteries series came along.

This morning, I took a look at what I’d done to ‘Barrenmoor’ then, and compared it to the original. Yes, well, ah-hem… there’s certainly some confusion in the opening scene; confusion around whose point of view we are experiencing the story from. It was meant to be John, the main character, but some of the time, it’s as if his friend, Sally, is the lead so that needed addressing. I think, when I was writing it, I wrote one version from her point of view and one from his and ended up mixing the two. It’s fine to use more than one point of view as long as you write in blocks (i.e. don’t change POV every other line) or put in a line break, or use some other technique that makes the switching obvious. I hadn’t done this; I’d bounced back and forth.

Here’s an example; the first 141 words of the original, which starts from John’s point of view, but swiftly changes to someone else (in italics):

John Hamilton was refusing a job at Everest base camp when he caught sight of the youth who was about to change his life. He was also ripping a piece of toast in half with his teeth while reaching for his pint mug of tea. The woman sitting opposite him in the Pot Hole, the climbers' café in Inglestone, was none too impressed that he had left their conversation hanging but assumed that John was considering her offer. After she had watched his confused expression for long enough, she leant across and pushed the piece of toast into his open mouth. 'It's an easy answer, John,' she said, smiling at his reaction. 'And you've got baked beans in your moustache.' John finally returned his gaze to her. 'What?' he said, his body at the table, his mind still across the room. 

Looking closer, I also have a problem with the second sentence, because

  1. it starts with ‘He’, and I now try and avoid doing that as it sounds weak, and
  2. because it’s weak, it’s vague, and we might be talking about the younger man across the room. Who is eating toast and drinking tea? Both of them?

My changes come next, and although they are not yet perfect, they are an improvement. Here are what are now the first 144 words.

John Hamilton was refusing a job at Everest base camp when he caught sight of the younger man who would change his life. Their eyes met, and although John was ripping apart a piece of toast and reaching for his pint mug of tea, both actions stopped in a heartbeat. The clatter and chatter around him in the climbers’ café faded, and he would have remained staring in silent awe had his companion not kicked him under the table. Sally appeared none too pleased he’d left their conversation hanging, because she leant across, pushed the piece of toast into his mouth, and said, ‘It’s an easy answer, and you’ve got baked beans in your moustache.’ John stared through her for a second before blinking. ‘What?’ His body was at the table, but his mind remained with who he had just seen.

That, to me, is better because, a) it stays as John’s point of view, therefore, b) it flows better, and c) it’s a little more intriguing. Does John know this younger man? (His mind remained with who he had just seen.) There is also the added attraction of naming his companion, Sally, rather than calling her ‘the woman’ as if he didn’t know who she was. I’ve also cut the detail about the café name and location, because that’s not vital and we’ll come to learn that information later. You’ll note I have left the opening line more or less intact. I rather like the way it mixes Everest Base Camp, refusing a job there, a younger man, a moment between two main characters, and ‘who would change his life,’ setting up what’s to come. I changed ‘youth’ to ‘younger man’ because it sounds less patronising.

The point of this is to highlight that it’s fine to return to an older work and improve it. We learn as we go, and because you can change your Amazon-uploaded files at any time, yet still keep the ISBN number and details, you can improve your work whenever you want. (As long as you don’t substantially change the story or title; in that case, you would need a new ISBN and would have to publish it as if it were a new book.) Revising those 141 words took me about half an hour, and I’m still not 100% happy, but I’ll continue when I can, and improve my ‘number five’ best seller bit by bit when I have time.

(Note from PA, “I love this opening, far more readable and the intrigue seed is planted leaving me wanting more. Bravo.”)

Work in Progress: 6.03

471 Kingsland Road.

That may not end up being the title, but it’s an idea. It’s also a place where I once lived, but that’s by the by.

There’s not much to report today because we currently have guests, so I am not writing as much as usual. What I am doing, though, is rereading what I have already written, improving it, and saying to myself, ‘Where is this going, and is it any good?’

Yesterday, I was looking around for some advice, and putting in search strings such as, ‘How to start on a new series,’ and ‘Ending one series and starting another.’ I was doing this because I can’t help feeling I am writing another Clearwater or Larkspur, only with different characters. I’m not. What’s coming out now has a completely different feel, yet I can’t help feeling I am doing the same as I did before. So, I was hoping to find some advice from experienced writers of series that said, ‘Take a month off,’ or, ‘Write in a different time or genre,’ or, ‘If you can’t let the last series go, then maybe you should go back to it.’

I didn’t find anything of use, only lots of very similar articles on how to start and finish a chapter. What was nice about that was that they were all saying you should try to do this, this and that, and I already do this, this and that. But it wasn’t what I was looking for.

What I decided, in the end, was that I’d carry on writing ‘471’ when I could, see what I have at the end of it, and go from there. If nothing else, I would have created a character or two, hopefully more, and put them into a story I could then improve. As I won’t be able to do much concentrated work for a couple of weeks, it will take some time, but during those weeks, I will be able to distance myself from what I have written, and then, who knows how ‘471’ will progress? Meanwhile, I am still learning a lot about hansom cabs and the way of Victorian cabmen.

More chat on Saturday…