Work in Progress: 5.08

It’s been a slightly disrupted week in the writing den and is set to become more so. We had the decorators in yesterday as the ceilings in our two work rooms needed painting. They are about ten feet high, so I wasn’t going to be doing that myself. It only took a few hours and the chaps did a great job, but it did mean complete disruption, moving furniture out, taking away everything except the bookcase, covering the desks… you know the drill. A couple of hours shifting stuff on either side of the actual work added to the delay, but I did manage to edit one and a half chapters I’d written the day before.

That’s what I usually do. I write a chapter or part of one each day, usually between 2,500 and 4,000 words depending on time, and the next day, I run through it, tidy it up, remind myself where I was, and then plough on with the next one.

The disruption will continue as we have scheduled power cuts for maintenance between 7.30 and 16.00 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week. For the sake of sharing a topical photohere is the announcement on social media of our power outages.

They may not affect us all that time, but I must be prepared. I can write for four hours on my laptop battery, but after that, I’m in the dark, as it were. We’re also in for force eight or nine winds on Thursday which could get noisy, but the weather is otherwise still amazingly mild for January in the Southern Aegean. We’re up to 16 degrees during the day, and down to twelve at night.

Still, the next book is coming along. At the last count, I was at 140,000 words with around another 20,000 to do. After that, there will be a lot of editing (my favourite part), but I am still on track to finish the Larkspur Series by the end of March.

Hopefully, I will be able to get a blog up on Saturday before we get plunged into darkness; if not, look out for a delayed weekend post on Sunday.

How One Thing Leads to Another

As Silas Hawkins’ mother would say,

“Today I am serving up a steaming bowl of this is how it is.

I was sitting here at five this morning trying to decide what to put on the blog today, and not coming up with any ideas. I am currently heading towards the crisis/climax of ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ (first draft), and my head is full of times, dates, relationships, twists, clues and explainers. I don’t have much room for anything else. So, for inspiration, I turned to my collection of folders and files where I sometimes jot ideas, and there, I came across a folder titled ‘The Castle’. Having no idea what this could be, I opened it and found the file:


Cast of characters

The cast of characters also contained a brief synopsis, and here it is:

  • Fleet saves Alder from a beating. Inventor sees, gives him the chance to escape with him to the distant castle.
  • Fleet has no choice
  • Fleet will only go if the mute comes too – Mute wants to, neither have homes/families (at this stage)
  • Journey at night
  • Arrive at castle not knowing what’s in store.

Believe it or not, those notes are what led to The Larkspur Mysteries, and in particular, the characters of Fleet and Joe Tanner. It’s always interesting to see how one idea can lead to another. I wrote one chapter of this thing, decided it wasn’t right for this idea, and set it aside.

In the absence of anything else to entertain you with today, I thought I would post some of that first chapter, as a bonus read while you wait for something more interesting to come along. For some reason, I can’t get these pages to layout the text as you’d see it in a book, so apologies for that, and also for the state of this rough draft extract of a chapter that never was – or hasn’t yet been. (It might appear in ‘Barbary Fleet and Other Matters; The Clearwater & Larkspur Companion’ later in the year.)

The eviction of poor Irish families from Leather Lane, London Illustrated News, 1892

The year is 1889, the place is London

A penny bought most things in Leather Lane market. A glass of sherbet, a live mackerel, a comb, a crab, or four windfall oranges with skin as discoloured as the winter-bitten cheeks of the hawkers who lined the crowded path between the stalls. Hard-bake morsels and gown pieces, an inch of braid or a soft potato, finest dates from the Arabs with stones to break teeth, and spices from the Indies laced with bean flour and alum. Everything was sought and anything was available.

‘A posey for your lady, Sir?’ Fading aconites offered in a gloved fist across a tray of crumbling heather; a purple gift of poison in flowering form.

‘Enamel buttons for your coat, young man?’ Drilled and ready. ‘Three-a-penny,’ and recently clipped from the jaw of a corpse.

Onions and old iron, scraps and scabbards, lucky tickets to win a slaughtered lamb, or a brace of pigeons hooked by the feet, necks swinging. Kentish turnips and hops, Suffolk fabrics in stash, stack and bundle, Norfolk eels contorting in the melting ice, and Whitstable oysters whistling their asphyxiation on dry, wooden trays.

Hands that grabbed with, ‘Good fortune for you when you buy a bunch, Sir,’ and toothless mouths that spat, ‘Then the devil will take ye, rantallion,’ when answered with ‘No, thank you.’

Barbary Fleet didn’t need heather, whether charmed or cursed, and he was not a rantallion, not that he was able to prove it without exposing himself. He had no need of Arabic dates or doctored anise, twisted twine or dead men’s teeth to fasten his darktail coat, he had come to the market for a purchase of vital importance, and he knew where it was to be found.

So intent was he on his mission, he failed to notice he was being followed.

Edging between the canvas stalls and clouds of smoke wafted from the chestnut braziers, he ducked the awnings of skinned hares and alley cats, left the polluted stream of bargain hunters, and took the pavement. If the market were a cobbled canal of hucksters and tricksters, the pavement behind the stalls was its towpath, quieter and lined by semi-respectable woodcarvers and tailors. Suited men and women in aprons who didn’t need to sing their wares like desperate chanteurs de rue, and grab at every passing farthing as though it were their last chance, but who stood behind tinkling doors folding cloth and blowing dust from chisels with smiles prepared and welcoming.

Fleet didn’t need them either, nor did he need the annoying drips of gutter rain that tapped his hair, or the wind that leapt from alley openings to slap his already pounding head. The piles of rotting offcuts and steaming dog stools were other inconveniences he could have done without as he picked his way towards his destination at Drift Corner, and the pocket-dipping urchins who swarmed at his tails like flies at the midden were as aggravating as his foolishness.

Who wagers their last five shillings on a bait dog? Who, but a romantic dolt would risk home and hunger on a lone pup because he couldn’t resist the lure of the underdog and believed its handler when told the money would save the hound from a fight? Who but Barbary Fleet would cry when the fight was over, not because he had lost everything bar one shilling, but because the pup lay twitching in its own blood, its sad eyes fading? Who, but a lonesome, straggle of a man like Fleet would spend ten of his last pennies on Shadwell gin with no thought for bread or board because he believed everything would come right in the morning?

‘But you saved tuppence,’ he told himself, swiping away the investigations of a pocket-dipper. ‘You won’t find anything in there, young Sir,’ he said, lifting the child by its collar and turning it away. ‘I should try someone whose pockets jangle like sleigh bells, rather than gasp for sustenance.’

Nearing Drift Corner, he reminded himself that, somehow through his drunken stupor, he had saved tuppence for an exceptionally good reason, and that reason was now upon him.

It came in the form of one of the prettiest girls he’d seen in this part of town. A girl not yet twenty but edging towards it with the hope that youth would remain while experience blossomed, and yet, unlike himself, she was short, demur and employed. She stood at the junction with her tray suspended from her waist but just above his knees, rearranging her wares while singing a tuneless air about a variety of knots and the usefulness of brass-tipped laces. Her ochre eyes were fixed nowhere but in her imagination, and her hair was crammed beneath a straw bonnet.

She returned from her daydreaming, and her song ended abruptly when Fleet announced, ‘Your meal ticket for the day has arrived, Miss. Are you eager to attend it with care and quiet, for its head rages like the storm that sunk the Hesperus taking with it the skipper’s pride in the way a dog’s death has wrecked mine?’

The girl blinked at him, and said, ‘What?’ in the same flat, disinterested tone with which most people greeted Fleet.

‘I need two of your penny laces.’

She tutted, and lifted a pair from her tray as a washerwoman might lift a stranger’s soiled underclothes.

‘Tuppence.’

‘I thought as much,’ Fleet bowed his head. ‘The clue is in your signage, Miss. There, where it states, “Tuppence a pair.” May I suggest — purely for the entertainment of your clientele — you consider something more akin to a challenge in your advertising?’

‘What?’ That time, it was more of a grunt than a question.

‘For a man whose head is as close to combustion as his stomach, the distraction of a conundrum is more soothing than an apothecary’s powder. Perhaps, if your board simply stated, “Laces” or even, for the uncertain, “Boot laces”, your customers might have cause to enter into an absorbing dialogue, and your trade would entertain as well as serve.’

‘D’you want the bloody things or not?’

The bustle of the market was of more interest to her than conversation, as she swayed the laces and yawned. However, when Fleet opened his coat to retrieve his wallet, her gaze slid back into place. He was tall and slender, but not willowy, and he didn’t dangle like her wares, but held himself erect as if self-assured, which, beneath his well-fitting suit, he was not. The girl’s eyes strayed to and fastened upon, the landscape between the bottom of his waistcoat and the rise of his trousers. It rested there an impolite second before travelling to his face and greeting it with an indecent grin.

‘Or would you rather have me for a shilling?’
She winked, and Fleet sighed.

‘I fear your conversation is as unalluring to me as your sex, Miss.’ He dropped two pennies into her tray, took the laces and twirled them around an agile finger until they were coiled like a ring. ‘And there we have it. I would doff my hat, but it has gone the way of most everything else once in my possession. Should you require a Broadway Topper — an American import, I fear — you will find one at leisure in Cohen’s pawnbrokers just off Drury Lane. Thus, Miss, I can only wish you a good day.’

His laces bought, he looked for a place to raise his feet and insert them into his boots, wondering whether he shouldn’t have used the last of his money on something more practical like a meal, but decided that the appearance of tied boots would be more beneficial to a prospective employer than flapping footwear, and approached a step. Glancing at the engraved glass door, he read, “Mouthgot’s Intricate Plasterwork” and thought it a good a place as any, but wondered, ‘Whose mouth has plasterwork and why so intricate?’


As you can see, Fleet started out as a swaggering, slim youth, which is not how he is portrayed in the Larkspur series. As for the mute, and the Joe Tanner character, he enters this scene as Fleet is tying his new laces. Perhaps I will post that section of the chapter another time. For now, Joe is currently engaged in a treasure hunt along with the other Larkspur Academy men, and as I have left them on pause, I need to get back to them and see what they do next. I’ll let you know more about the progress of ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ on my work-in-progress blog on Wednesday. Have a great weekend.

Oh, and if you don’t know what a rantallion is, Google the word. It’s a fun one to use as a counter-insult.

Work In Progress: 5.07

The Larkspur Legacy

Today is a quick update on where I am with the last in the Larkspur Mystery series, ‘The Larkspur Legacy.’

There’s not much to report, but I have been getting on with things. I am now working on chapter 35, and the various threads of the story are starting to come together. I am at 123,000 words, and still have a way to go, so we are, as I thought, looking at a first draft of roughly 150,000 words, possibly more. This is the same length as ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, which is what I wanted. The end of a series needs to tie all kinds of things together and produce a satisfying result, and I know exactly how things are going to end. I had the finale planned many months ago, and the road I am on now although maybe not the home straight, it is perhaps the final corner that will lead to the home straight.

I am into my winter routine now, which means getting up early, doing some writing work for other people for a couple of hours because I still have to pay the bills, and then taking a walk to clear that from my head and set the next part of ‘Legacy’, and then getting down to a few hours of typing. My desk is surrounded by notes, I have 101 things to check when I finally get to read through the first draft to make sure the stories tie up, and then, around midday, I take time off. It’s tempting, though, when it’s winter, sometimes cold and wet, to stay in the sitting room for the rest of the day, but I try not to. Usually, by the afternoon, I am brain-dead because I’ve been writing since five in the morning, so I like to do something else. This year, I am working on a model of ‘the Mummy’ when not writing, playing the piano, giving a piano lesson, or watching ‘The Amazing Race’, ‘The Circle’ or other TV series.

‘The Larkspur Legacy’, then, is coming together, and I definitely have a deadline for its completion. I’ve been in touch with Andjela about the cover and she’s on standby for when I am ready, and we’re still looking at the end of March for its release.

More on my blog on Saturday.

How Many Voices Tell Your Story?

As you might know, I’m currently working on ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, the last in the Larkspur Mystery series.

If you have read ‘Starting with Secrets’, you will know that book comes before ‘Legacy’ and concerns a treasure hunt in four pieces based on the four points of a compass. In ‘Secrets’, the characters chased three out of four clues because I thought having four story-lines running simultaneously might be complicated, and now, writing ‘Legacy’ with all four stories in action, I find I was right.

It’s not the weaving of the four plots that needs careful handling and consideration, but the way the stories are told. I love a good, interwoven plot line or four, where each thread has to be tied off neatly so my story doesn’t get knotted. What I am having to be aware of is who is telling the story, and in ‘Legacy’, I have four main characters seeing the story from four points of view (POV). So, the question is, how do you handle that?

One Character POV

Many stories are told with one main character (MC) as the central character. We follow his/her path from a normal world, through a series of trials and a character-development arc, to a twist, a change, a crisis and a climax. (Use the search box for earlier posts about story and character development.) That’s the classic hero’s journey kind of storytelling, but in ‘Legacy’, I am not telling one person’s story. What I am doing, is bringing to an end a series of 17 books through a device that uses characters and information from as long ago as the Clearwater prequel, Banyak & Fecks, and taking us right up to date and the previous Larkspur mystery, ‘Starting with Secrets.’

I decided I couldn’t write a four-story epic like ‘Legacy’ with one main character involved in each one of the four through-lines, simply because no-one can be in four places at the same time. However, what I could do, was have one of my main characters ‘lead’ each storyline and write it from his point of view, keeping one protagonist (in this case, Archer, Lord Clearwater), and one antagonist who has a band of other villains under his command.

Thus, what we have are four stories woven together, all playing their part in the success or failure of one overarching story (the treasure hunt), and all coming about because of one protagonist. Easy right?

Actually, yes. I’m loving it, but I have to keep my eye on the ball, particularly when it comes to who is experiencing the story, and as I just explained, that is not one character, but four.

Five actually, or maybe it’s six…

Know Your Throughlines

Without giving anything away, I can tell you that the action plot of ‘Legacy’ looks something like this:

  1. Overarching plot of discovering the secret and finding the treasure based on four points of the compass.
  2. South: a team chasing down the answer to the south clue
  3. North: a team chasing down the answer to the north clue
  4. East: Ditto but the east clue
  5. West: you get the picture
  6. The villain’s story, because we need to know that side of things too

Within those six storylines, we must have the emotional side of the story, so that the reader is engaged emotionally and is not reading a Clive Cussler action-adventure story.*

So, among the six listed above, I also have:

  1. The ‘heart’ of the story; the friendship story if you like
  2. The tying up of previous loose ends, love stories, histories, etc.
  3. The villain’s motivation explained
  4. The tying up of other threads begun in earlier books in the series
  5. Giving those that deserve it a happy ending (or not)

(* I love Clive Cussler adventure stories, btw.)

With those charted on my map that will lead me through ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, I set about writing the story… stories… while keeping everything and everyone focused on the final outcome: success for Lord Clearwater, and happiness (or not) for his band of friends, crew and academy men.

This is where, when you are writing from more than one character’s point of view, you need to remember who is seeing the story unfold.

General Narrator VS Character POV

Many authors write with their own voice as the narrator, and that’s fine. The narrator is an omnipresent observer relaying the events back to you, the reader. I always wonder, though, how this narrator knows what’s inside the characters’ heads and hearts, and I often find the telling of the emotional side of stories is muted because of this approach. That, like everything else I write here, is only my opinion.

Some authors, and I am thinking of John Steinbeck here, take on the voice of a character who lives in the world of the story but is not actually in the story. That works better for me, and I find my writing flows best when I am writing in the first person, as I do in one of the stories within ‘Legacy.’

Some of my books have taken two characters’ points of view, and others have taken more, but only now and then. ‘Banyak & Fecks’ for example, is told in four parts: Andrej, from his POV, Silas, from his, then the Andrej & Silas, and Banyak & Fecks sections which are variously from both points of view. In other books, we might find a chapter from a minor character’s point of view, as we do at the start of ‘Artful Deception’ which opens with a man called Henry Beddington, the concierge of the National Gallery. That’s fine too; we need to keep our readers informed and entertained, and if we have to change from one place to another, we might need to change from one character’s POV to another.

Beware: it’s not a good idea to have a new lead character and point of view in every single chapter or section thereof.

For ‘Legacy’, I have gone down the multi-character point-of-view narration style. It’s still my voice overall, but even though we read from a 3rd person, omnipresent narration in all but the 1st person sections, I am aware that I am describing things from a character’s POV and not my own.

Say what?

I am trying to say, when making more than one character your main character, always be aware of who that character is, and make sure his/her reactions to and observations of what happens are character appropriate. Fine, but there’s more. I also try and ensure my style of narration reflects the main character of the chapter.

Let me try and illustrate what I am saying.

Voices

Again, without giving anything away, here is how I am approaching this multi-character point-of-view style in ‘Legacy.’ Here are a few examples of how I am trying to change my narrator’s voice to reflect the attitudes of the main characters of each of my storylines. These are first-draft, unedited sections, so please forgive any clumsiness.

1) Action at Larkspur Hall is seen from Silas’ point of view, therefore the first thing we get is a cosey scene of two lovers in bed. The writing style is mostly straightforward, to reflect Silas’ character, and when writing, I find myself ‘thinking Irish.’

‘This is an outrage!’

Silas rolled over to find his lover sitting up in bed, his reading spectacles teetering on the end of his nose and his face red with rage. Archer’s knuckles were white as he gripped a newspaper, and his coffee sat steamless on the bed tray. Silas hadn’t heard Nancarrow come in, deliver the coffee and pour, nor had he woken when the butler drew the curtains revealing a grey sky…

2) Action pertaining to the ‘heart’ of the story (the good fortune of the academy men, friendship, the changes Clearwater has enabled in his men, the more emotional side of things). This is mainly seen from Dalston Blaze’s point of view, he being the first Larkspur Academy man we met in ‘Guardians of the Poor.’

The workhouse. A previous life of tedium, cold and hunger. An existence he wouldn’t wish on anyone, and yet, had it not been for a house fire and an unknowing public, he wouldn’t have been taken to the Hackney spike. There, if it hadn’t been for a kind matron and his ability to draw, he would never have met Joe, but if he hadn’t met Joe, he may not have fallen prey to Skaggot. His life had been shaped by a chain of coincidences, and the only one among them that felt inevitable was meeting Joe.

3) 1st person narrative is written by Bertie Tucker in diary form. He’s a pretty rough character underneath, been at sea since he was seven, and not greatly educated, but he’s been asked to keep a diary. In this brief section, he’s trying on clothes with an Italian sailor called Mario. The style is completely different to a) give readers a rest and a smile, and b) bring them into the action, because 1st person is more direct.

I got me boots and trousers off, and was in my drawers going through the shirts when I found one I thought might fit him. So, I turned back to hand it over and he’s standing there naked as the day he was born. Or, more like, the day he was carved out of marble, because his body (darker skin than me) showed me every single muscle.

‘What you doing naked?’ I said, and should have looked away, but being me, I couldn’t resist a gander. Just a quick one, you understand, but enough for him to see what I were doing.

‘No underwear,’ he said. ‘Lost it in a bet.’

Bloody hell. This great big peg dangling about dark as you like, and a couple of buoys you could hitch a few lobster pots to and never lose them in a storm, and… I mean, where’s a man to look?

4) The descriptive, darker side of villains. When we switch to the baddies and what they are up to, I have, as I have done before, slipped into Tripp’s mind, but in some cases, as in the example below, I have become a general narrator as if I and the reader were floating around in the fetid atmosphere of the villain’s lair.

To Tripp’s left stood the letter table, a relic of a fortunate past once lived, where industrious staff had placed the box for posting, and the deliveries from cheerful men wishing Fareham’s household a good day. Now, it was nothing but another shape in the gloom, whose usefulness had faded like the writing on the envelopes that once might have waited there. What remained was an opener. A long, steel blade which, unlike Tripp, had meaning. It was within his reach, and it would do its work with speed, but it was not work Tripp could currently allow. No matter how vile his master, he needed the earl. Perhaps, once Clearwater was dead, so could the earl be, for Tripp had nothing to live for after his revenge was done.

5) Others, and so on. Other parts of the story are seen through the eyes of other characters, such as Frank Andino, and when he’s on stage as the MC, I am aware that he’s a blunt speaker. Not only is this reflected in the dialogue, but it’s also shown in the ‘black stuff’, the narration, as if we were in his mind.

The sauntering young Greek became a confident Englishman as Frank entered the foyer, hands out of pockets, guidebook under his arm. His hat doffed to the sleepy old lady behind the counter, he mounted the stairs with grace until the turn, and then bolted the rest of the way to their room. Two open suitcases, Jimmy’s spare jacket on a hanger, Frank’s trousers off the floor, two bottles from the table, one bloody boot? Where’s the other one, malaka…? Both in the case, case shut, other case shut, quick check. All there. Fuck off out of here.

How Many Voices Tell Your Story?

To bring this to a close, I repeat: How Many Voices Tell Your Story? I answer my own question by saying, as many as it takes, but be careful. Ensure your narration fits the main character as well as your characters’ dialogue suits them, and don’t be afraid to transport your reader from one place to another at the turn of a page. However, remember your overarching through-line, your character arcs and your plot.

Hey, this writing thing is meant to be fun, isn’t it?

Have a good weekend, Jackson

Work In Progress: 5.06

The Larkspur Legacy

The title of this catch-up post is misleading, because I have been working on ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ for more than six weeks, and it’s not my 5th book. It is the 5th book since I started the work-in-progress blog, though, and it is my 6th post about it. So, here’s where I am with the last in the Larkspur series, ‘The Larkspur Legacy.’

Word Count

After finishing yesterday’s draft chapter, I found myself at 105,000 words. I also found myself standing on my balcony with Neil, telling him that, in my estimation, I had at least another ten chapters to write before the first draft story was out of my head. With an average chapter count of 3,000 to 4,000 words, that will take the total word count to around 150,000 words. That is the same length as ‘The Clearwater Inheritance,’ so I am happy with that. I like to give my readers a good, long and rewarding read for the last book of a series. However, my estimate doesn’t include a story that has an effect on the main story, and I’m not sure if I will be able to get that one in. If I don’t, then it will appear in ‘The Clearwater Companion’, the companion to the Clearwater and Larkspur series I am planning to compile once ‘Legacy’ is published.

Notes and books, notes and books…

What’s the Story?

If you have read ‘Starting with Secrets’, you will know that the Clearwater crew are on a mission to solve four clues in a treasure hunt that will, ultimately, unlock a great secret and offer Clearwater and his men a great reward. ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ is all about completing that hunt, but it is also about other things. There are personal stories to settle, there are villains to defeat (or not), there’s a new love story running through one of the four threads of the book, and there will be a twist that I hope no-one will see coming. Eek!

As there are four clues, so there are four stories within the book, although all are related by the overall aim of discovering the secret. This is why you will find several characters travelling to the Mediterranean, a couple travelling to Greece, a couple to another part of Europe, and some staying at Larkspur to deal with the annoyingly persistent villains set up in ‘Starting with Secrets.’ One of those threads is the one I may have to miss out on because of story length, but what happens during that small adventure isn’t as important as what’s found at the end of it, and the action can happen off-stage; as long as the answer comes back to Larkspur, where some of your favourite characters are gathering information while seeking the perfect way to be rid of the various villains. (There are four from previous books, plus a couple of new ones working for them.) Honestly, trying to keep all the pieces together is a feat in itself, but I am having great fun.

A map of the Plaka in Athens from my new, old book.

Research and a Derailment

Clearly, I was not in the Med in 1891 when the story is set, so I have had to research. The books you see today are those I picked up when in Athens recently, so that might give you a clue to one of the destinations in ‘Legacy.’ I also have to research… (No, I won’t name the place, yet) another country. This, I was doing on Monday when I got derailed.

I had set up a throughline where the characters say:

‘We will go to X, then, from there to Y we can go by train. The journey will take us two weeks…’

Having done that, I then plotted and wrote the stories happening elsewhere around that timeline. On Monday, I discovered that there were no trains between X and Y in 1891, and rather than take artistic licence, I said, ‘Bugger!’ and replotted. The journey will now take up to one month, which means that part of the overall story shifts the timeline for all other parts of the story. Always do your research, and do it thoroughly.

(Not the offending book in question)

In my defence, I was using a book advertised as published in 1890 which said the line opened two years ago, only to find out, on Monday, it was actually the 1897 edition and not the one I thought it was. This meant the railway line wasn’t opened until four years after my characters would have been on it, and you know I like to be as accurate as possible with my details.

Anyway… This isn’t getting the writing done, so that’s exactly what I am going to do now. Battle on with the next chapter while keeping copious notes about what I need to change, add, and subtract from what’s already written while taking away the number I first thought of.

I will leave you with a tiny teaser and see you on Saturday!

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! I am back to blogging, and kicking off 2023 with an update on what I have been doing.

In the film, ‘Throw Momma from the Train’, Billy Crystal’s character says,

‘A writer writes. Always.’

Well, I say,

‘A writer not only writes but he also researches’,

and that is what I was doing during my Christmas and New Year break.

Athens – a Location for ‘The Larkspur Legacy’

In the next, and final, Larkspur Mystery, some of the characters find themselves in Athens, Greece, and I found myself there only last week. Neil and I went with our logical family, Jenine, and our youngest godson, Harry. (Our elder godson, at 19, opted to stay at home and spend his free time from college with some friends.)

Living on Symi, any journey must start with a ferry, and after walking down to the harbour in the early morning, we took the one-hour crossing to Rhodes. From there, it was a bus to the airport, a 40-minute flight to Athens, and a pre-booked taxi to the area of Thissio and our rented apartment. The next three-and-a-half days were filled with walking, eating, and seeing the sights/sites. Some of those we visited are pictured on the blog today, and one of them will feature in ‘The Larkspur Legacy.’ Even though it’s only for one or two chapters, Athens plays a part, but it is not Athens as we see it now, but as it was in 1991.

The Acropolis

One day on our trip, we took a guided walk around parts of the city with a knowledgeable guide, and I asked him what he knew about the city in 1891. From this, I gleaned some information I’d not found in my research, and he took us to the outside of the home of Heinrich Schliemann, the archaeologist who discovered the location of the ancient city of Troy*, among other things. I never knew he was in Athens in 1891, but sadly, he won’t feature in the book because it wouldn’t be relevant.

*[Wiki says: Schliemann was a German adventurer and con man who took sole credit for the discovery, even though he was digging at the site, called Hisarlik, at the behest of British archaeologist Frank Calvert.]

The Temple of Hephaestus

Among the places we visited were the Acropolis (of course), The Temple of Hephaestus in the Ancient Agora, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Philopappos Hill, and the site of the original home of democracy, Pynx, the hill overlooking the Acropolis, and the first official meeting place of the Athenian democratic assembly (ekklesia). We also saw the car museum, ate food Indian, Chinese, Greek and Mexican, and, on our last day, visited the famous flea market.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Imagine the joy of wandering antique and second-hand book shops again as I used to years ago in London.

While doing so, I found two books that I have already ploughed through in my search for details of Athens in 1891; one about the Plaka area, and one about mapmakers and mapping of the Aegean. I could have spent the whole four days in these bookshops, but half an hour was all I could manage, otherwise, I’d have broken my bank.

The Tower of the Four Winds, Plaka.

And into 2023

Now, back home, I have taken up my morning walks again, and although they only cover two miles, they give me 40 minutes of alone time. This morning while walking, I unlocked the ‘How are they going to do that?’ part of ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ which has so far evaded me, and now have notes on how that climax is to go.

So, it’s, again, a Happy New Year from me, and not being one for resolutions, I am making no promises. However, for the first half of this year I intend to finish and release ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, bringing the saga to a close by, hopefully, the end of March. After that, I want to produce a Clearwater & Larkspur Companion to tie up any loose ends and give my readers something extra to accompany both series. The working title is currently: ‘Barbary Fleet and Other Matters; a Clearwater and Larkspur Companion.’

And a quick reminder if you would still like to vote for the Goodreads Awards the polls are still open for a couple more days. The links to the categories are at the bottom of this blog post, click here.

I’ll leave it there. There will be more about the work in progress, ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, on my Wednesday blog when I will update you on progress as my writing world gets back to ‘normal.’ Remember

Work In Progress: 5.05

The Larkspur Legacy

Well, folks, I am at 75,000 words. I have characters here there and everywhere trying to track down and solve clues. I have evil villains plotting this and doing that, and I now have the sky full of chickens coming home to roost; not that chickens can fly.

It’s all going rather well, but there is still a long way to go. I am in the thick of it, and have to have papers stuck around my desk to remind me of where everyone is, who is chasing whom, and there’s a pile of notes of things to check or add in when I go back over the first draft. Meanwhile, Jenine has had me taking part in promos and online parties, publicising the other books and these two series, and we’ve been preparing for Christmas.

On which note, I want to tell you I shan’t be posting for a couple of weeks. I may pop up next Wednesday with something, but the next scheduled post here will be January 7th. It’s Christmas this weekend, and the weekend after, we shall all be in Athens for New Year. As Athens is one of the destinations in The Larkspur Legacy, I hope to get some photos of one of the places that will feature in the book.

The winner of the advent quiz will be drawn on Sunday, so watch my Jackson Marsh Facebook page for the result.

So, I will wish you all a Happy Christmas (Happy Holidays for those who don’t celebrate Christmas) and a Happy New Year for everyone whose New Year it soon is. A heartfelt thank you to everyone for your support, your kind reviews and your passing on of recommendations. Without such support, Jackson Marsh wouldn’t exist. Have a great time, and I will see you next year.

Work In Progress: 5.04 The Larkspur Legacy

At the last count, The Larkspur Legacy had reached 55,000 words in draft one, and there are still several weeks of the story still to tell. The chase is definitely on, the Clearwater crew is organised, they know what they have to do and have started getting on with solving the mystery and locating the great secret. Unfortunately, the evil, anti-crew are also organised, well-financed and just as determined to achieve their own goals. It looks like everyone is evenly matched for what is going to be a monster of an end-of-series climax.

With many of my novels, I have an opening scene in mind when I start to write, and a closing one, and what happens in between is often only sketched out before I start. With this one, things are different. I know what the epilogue is to be, and I have all threads tied up in my mind and notes. What I don’t have so much are those threads before being tied up. However, knowing how things will end allows me to be creative during the parts in between while keeping myself restricted to only what is plausible to make the ending work. In other words, I have a structure, but it has taken a lot of planning, and currently, my writing/planning desk looks like this…

The atlas is there because the story sees several of the crew travelling to various places, while others remain in England to plot a downfall, keep track of where everyone is, and work on solving the mystery without actually being in the field. From left to right: the Scrabble is there to assist with anagrams, the large notebook is a plot outline of the middle of the story, keeping track of where everyone is and how long it would have taken them to get there, and the piece of paper is my ‘master sheet’ now up on the board beside my writing desk. The atlas is also there so I can visualise routes. Among the notebooks and other bits and pieces, is a compass (as mentioned in the story and in ‘Starting with Secrets’), and a small sextant.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, my typing table looks like this…

Scrap paper for notes, the master plan, a cypher grid, a mosquito spray and a heater I’ve not had to use so far this winter as it’s still 16 degrees at 5.30 in the morning.

It is upwards and onwards now, as the story moves from land to sea (while also staying on land, and in several countries), and where a new love story is about to begin. It might be 55,000 words in already (about a third of the way through), but there’s always time for love.

While all this is going on, don’t forget my Advent calendar quiz and your chance to win an exclusive prize. All the details are on my Facebook Page. I am going to be busy with Christmas promotions and online parties over the next couple of weeks, and I will give you all the details of where you can find me on my next Saturday blog.

You have to be in it to win it!

Unfinished Beginnings. Why you Should Never Throw Anything Away.

This morning, while wondering what I might blog about today, I turned my attention to my collection of Clearwater notes, and a folder titled ‘Other ideas and texts.’ In it, I found the first 16 draft chapters of a book that never was. (That, by the way, was 60,000, but I decided I could do better, so I started again.) The story was titled ‘Original Part 6’, meaning I’d not yet found a name for it, but I had been playing with the idea of a novel called ‘Men of a Similar Heart’, a title I may, one day, still use. As this draft was never published, I looked at it to remind myself of the story which would have come after ‘Bitter Bloodline’ and before ‘Artful Deception.’ Sure enough, chapter one begins:

Henry Beddington had been the concierge at the National Gallery since it opened in 1865, and took great pride in the fact that, despite the large number of visitors passing through its doors each day, there had never been any trouble in his foyer. Keeping watch over the entrance from his counter on the morning of July 8th he had no reason to suspect that today would be any different.

That paragraph ended up being the opening of ‘Artful Deception’, but what came later in ‘Original Part 6’ differed wildly from the rest of the final book.

I also found two chapters where Archer and Silas take lunch at a dubious club, meet with an old friend of Archer’s who is in serious decline, and take on a new case. That idea was also shelved (though it’s quite a funny scene, so I may rehash it at another time).

Then, there were a few chapters of another version of ‘Men of a Similar Heart’ that never made it into any of the other books. In one version of the story that never was, James, by then a detective (1889) takes on a mysterious case where one man is searching for another before his missing friend ‘does something stupid.’ I have the outline of that mystery/adventure, and it’s a good plot with a few nice twists, so I might return to that one day too.

Then, I found notes for ‘Part 09’, which ended up becoming ‘Negative Exposure.’ After bringing the Jasper and Billy story to a reasonable conclusion in ‘One of a Pair’, I turned my attention to the backstory of Silas and Andrej and came up with ‘Banyak & Fecks’, so by the time I returned to the Clearwater world, other ideas had come to the fore. Much of what underpins ‘Negative Exposure’ comes from events that happened years before in ‘Banyak & Fecks’, which is why I advise reading the prequel between books eight and nine.

While going through some of these notes, wincing at some of my clunky writing (they are first drafts), and also thinking, ‘Hm, now that would be fun to resurrect’, I found a few other starts and ends of chapters I’d like to share. I am always conscious of ending a chapter in a way that leads to another unless that chapter is the first part of a longer scene. There are a few in the collection of never-used which I may well reuse elsewhere. Here is the original opening for another version of ‘Men of a Similar Heart’ that never was; the end of chapter one.

[Archer, Silas, James, Fecks and Tom are swimming in a pond near Larkspur Hall one summer, when Barnaby Nancarrow, then still a footman, comes charging over the hill. He reports that while Archer has been out, someone has broken into the Hall. Nothing has been taken, but something has been left behind.]

Barnaby had started shaking with shock, and Archer was certain it wasn’t from the exertion of running a mile from the Hall to the edge of the estate. Thomas appeared, immaculately dressed and calm, and seeing the state of his footman, stood directly in his line of sight.

‘Barnaby. You must answer His Lordship,’ he said, employing an authoritative but gentle tone. ‘You have done exactly as I would have wished, and there will be no recriminations if you speak plainly and honestly. If nothing has been taken, what has been left behind?’

Hearing his butler address him so naturally gave Barnaby strength. Being more accustomed to talking to the butler than his master, he was able to break the news to Mr Payne, and he cleared his throat before squaring his shoulders.

‘Very sorry to report, Mr Payne,’ he said, ‘but whoever it was, has left behind a corpse.’

Cue mysterious music…

Another opening chapter: In this one, set in December 1889, a new client visits James at the detective agency at Larkspur House and asks him to take on a case. The first chapter ends with:

‘Mr Wright, only you can take my case for three reasons. Firstly, it is not a matter for the police because a crime has not been committed. Secondly, it is a delicate and personal matter, and as I expect you know, the police are neither delicate nor personal. But, most importantly, it must be you who takes my case because it is one that can only be understood by…’ What had been a confident flow of words dried with apprehension, and Norton swallowed. His Adam’s apple rose and fell like the puck on a fairground hammer blow, and James expected to hear a bell ring.

‘Can only be understood?’ he prompted when Norton had hesitated long enough.

Norton cleared his throat and regained his composure. ‘By men like us,’ he said, and when James shook his head in bewilderment, clarified. ‘It is a case that concerns men of a similar heart.’

And that’s where the idea for the title came from.

Another file in my folder is titled ‘Another opening idea’ (I am not very original when naming files), and this time, it’s the start of a chapter and book which I set aside for later use:

[Larkspur Hall, December 11th, 1889. A letter from Mrs Baker to Thomas Payne in London.]

Dear Mr Payne,

I write for your advice because I fear for the safety of Lady Clearwater and do not wish to unduly alarm His Lordship.

Where was that leading?

(It eventually became the sub-plot of ‘Negative Exposure’ and led to the story of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’)

Here’s the end of chapter one of another story that never was. It’s the one I mentioned where Archer and Silas take lunch at a club and are there to meet an old friend of Archer’s, Freddie Falconbridge, who Archer has described as fit and strong, an athlete and a statue of manliness.

Silas followed, picturing Lord Falconbridge as a tall, wide wall of muscles, someone he might see smashing a hammer onto a fairground’s high striker to ring an impossibly high bell, or lifting weights in a show of physical strength before singing bawdy ballads with his manly teammates after a hellish game of football.

When he entered the room, however, the man who struggled from his chair to greet them, could not have been more different.

‘Good Lord, Freddie,’ Archer exclaimed. ‘Will you live through lunch?’

I never used the scene or the chapter ending, though Falconbridge turns up in another guise in ‘Negative Exposure’ because I liked the name.

Finally, another opening that never found an ending, though I have the plot of this story and several draft chapters. I rather liked this one because it gives us the crime to be solved as reported in a newspaper, and we all know how much I like to employ newspaper articles, letters, telegrams and such devices.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette

Monday, November 26th, 1877

Tragedy At Sinford’s

A grim discovery was made on Friday last at Sinford’s School for Boys, Moorside. On rousing the men of Drake House, the Housemaster, Rev. D Spencer discovered a student absent from his bed, and soon after, when searching for the pupil, was confronted with a scene of great tragedy.

The body of Luc Verdier was discovered in the attic of the building hanging from a rafter by a rope fashioned into an ill-formed, but fatal noose about his neck. Verdier, we are told, was the son of a diplomat of the French Embassy and had attended Sinford’s since coming up from prep school…

And so it goes on, as could I, but I will leave you with the point of today’s blog, and that is to say to all aspiring authors, never throw anything away. If you have an idea, write it down and keep it. You can always reuse, as I have done, and even if you don’t, it’s fun to reflect on what you were thinking and where stories might have taken you. It’s also a useful exercise to look back and see how your writing has improved over time, and it will.

So, my thought for the day:

Work In Progress: 5.03 The Larkspur Legacy


I am up and running on ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, the seventh and last Larkspur Mystery, due out in spring 2023.

I’ve been working on this for some time, making notes and plotting plots while writing ‘Starting with Secrets’, so I am already up to 40,000 words. The title of ‘Starting with Secrets’ refers to the start of a great adventure, Lord Clearwater’s hunt for his mother and godmother’s great ‘treasure’ and ‘secret’, and although the story starts in book six, it is left unfinished and continues in book seven.

As usual, I’ll give away no spoilers, but I can tell you I am currently in a Falmouth shipyard inspecting a schooner barque. For my research, I have been reading books about merchant schooners, studying rigging plans, and looking up all kinds of interesting facts about sailing ships of the late 19th century. It’s a whole new world, and, more exciting for me, a whole new language. I’m also looking up what I call ‘sailor speak’ to get the terminology the sailors in my story would have used, while also looking into mysteries of the past, European travel of the time, Thomas Cook escorted tours, and other related matters.

Falmouth Harbour

Talking of spoilers, I used to outline my plots to Neil, as it is always useful to have someone to bounce ideas off. However, there is such a big twist at the end of ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, I must throw around my ideas in code, so I don’t spoil his reading for the first draft. He won’t get to see it until next year, but if I can continue at the pace I am, I should have it ready for him to beta read around February. Having said that, comparing the current word count to the basic plot outline, I am only about one-fifth of the way through. Either I will end up with a novel at 200,000 words, or I will have to cut some ideas and slash the draft when completed. ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ came in at 150,000 words, and I am aiming for the same for ‘the Larkspur Legacy.’

You will note, perhaps, a similarity in the titles (Inheritance and Legacy). Both end a series, and both involve something left behind for another. There is always a double meaning in my titles.

I will say no more, except to remind you to take part in with my Advent quiz via my Facebook page. 26 books, 25 days, 25 chances to win a special prize soon to be announced (and it won’t be a book, but a one-off… something that only the winner will receive).