An Author’s Easter in Greece

It is Easter this weekend here in Greece, and as I write, Symi is about to be rocked by festivities.

I first experienced Greek Easter in 2003, and I’d never seen or heard anything like it. At that time, we were living in a house at the top of our village, only a few yards away from one of the larger parish churches. We were so close, we could hear the mechanism of the bells before they chimed, and when they did ring, would often have to turn the television off, because there was no point in trying to watch anything; all you could hear were bells. That was one thing, and we got used to it and enjoyed hearing the bells on the hour and the half, at weddings and baptisms, and, later, at Easter.

But Easter in Greece is not only about bells. There are various stages of Lent, the 40 days before Easter. Even before then, the traditions start with a Monday where the last of the cheese is eaten, a Thursday when the last of the meat is consumed, and a carnival, or a Mardi Gras, as they have in other countries around the world. If you follow the Greek Orthodox way of life, you follow a strict diet throughout Lent, which becomes stricter during ‘Great Week’, the seven days before Easter Sunday. On ‘Big Friday’ (Good Friday) for example, you don’t use cutlery, you don’t work, and the island falls eerily quiet – except for the day-tripper tourists. It was during my first Easter here that I experienced the literal silence of the lambs. There were many not far from our semi-rural house, bleating away during the lead up to Good Friday, and then on Good Friday… Silence.

In Spring the sheep are tethered on wasteland to munch their way through the fresh greenery

Lamb is the main staple of the Easter Sunday feast. Say no more.

Today, Easter Saturday, is another quiet day that leads to a very noisy night. Yesterday, the effigies of Christ were removed from the crucifixes in the church and laid on decorated biers. Villagers parade this, bring it into the churches which are decked in black and indigo, and a very serious and funereal service takes place.

The services continue through Saturday, leading to what we might call midnight mass on Saturday night. Then, at midnight, all the lights in the churches are turned off, and the priest appears with the sacred flame. This has come from Jerusalem to Athens by special plane and is used to light other candles and lanterns, which are then passed down to the towns, cities and islands. At midnight, the priest uses the flame to light the candles worshipers have brought, and people share their flame with their neighbours, so the light spreads further.

The Priest sharing the holy flame

This happens at the moment of the resurrection, midnight, and with candles lit, everyone returns home to mark their doorway lintels with X and A, standing for Xristos Anestsi. Χριστός Ανέστη. Christ is risen.

Easter Sunday is a time for feasting, relighting the barbeque, visiting family, and celebrating the new beginnings, and on Easter Monday, there is a national holiday. The ceremonies continue with the burning of Judas (an effigy, often wearing the mask of the global villain of the day, this year, I imagine, it will be Putin), a bonfire and fireworks.

This will be our table for Easter Sunday lunch, we are invited to The Anchor House with its fabulous views

And while all this is going on, there is the noise. Children and many adults delight in warding off evil spirits by setting off bangers (firecrackers), some much louder than others. Teenagers in particular love to find places where the sharp bangs echo most and make the loudest noise, and it takes some getting used to. Then, on Good Friday night and Easter Saturday night, in particular, the menfolk are up on the hillside with massive barrels stuffed with dynamite which they ignite. It’s no exaggeration to say the island rocks. Depending on where you are, you might find debris falling on your head, you can see flares shooting up and dropping onto rooves, lighting the sky red, and some people set off fireworks too. For as long as I have lived here (20 years), I’ve never heard of a fire or serious accident, which is something of an Easter miracle.

I will try and upload a video of the proceedings tonight and share on my facebook page.

That’s where I am right now; in the middle of the Greek Easter weekend. Down here in the South-East Aegean, Symi is starting to wake up after a long, wet and cold winter — we had snow for the first time in many years — and tourists are beginning to return.

Nicknamed the ‘Judas Plant’, this lily is always in bloom at easter time, it looks beautiful but exudes the smell of dead goat

Harbour and village businesses are opening, though the beaches and water taxis aren’t up and running yet, and we have our first visitor too. My mother is staying for a month, which is fun. Luckily, she understands that I have ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ about to come out next week, and I am currently working through the final proof, organising the cover, setting up publication on Amazon and doing those 101 things that need to be done ahead of the release date. That, by the way, should be during next week.

You don’t have long to wait to meet our new characters, Chester Cadman, Henry Hope and Edward Hyde. You’ll find out who falls in love with whom, what eccentricities Fleet is getting up to, and some of the history behind Larkspur Hall. There’s a ghostly mystery to solve, and a few exciting things happen in a bath, a bed and a laboratory…

Seeing Through Shadows
Coming Soon!

I will say no more, except. Kalo Paska – Happy Easter – and remind you to look out for Wednesday’s work in progress blog where I’ll tell you more about ‘Seeing Through Shadows’, the Larkspur Mysteries, book four.

Work In Progress 2:11

Seeing Through Shadows

Last weekend I finished my running draft of ‘Seeing Through Shadows’, the Larkspur Mysteries book four. The manuscript will go to the proofreader at the end of this week, and I should have it ready for publication by the end of the week after. So, not long to wait now.

Meanwhile, we have finalised the front cover, and I now need to work on the text for the back and its Amazon page, and I need to write the author’s notes. That’s the section I add at the end of the Larkspur Books, where I talk about some facts behind the story.

The fact that this is WIP 2.11 means I have been working on ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ for 11 weeks. That means, by the time it is published, it would have taken me roughly three months from start to finish. The manuscript is 108,000 words long, and the story delves into the history of the Clearwater title, the line of previous viscounts, and some historical events that happened on the estate.

Neil has read the story and called it, ‘A love story within a love story,’ which I thought was a nice way to put it. There’s also a ghost story, some humour, new characters, established ones developing further, and a little eroticism.

And, with that, I shall leave you and get back to redecorating the house (I’ve taken the week off to get the job done). There will be a blog on Saturday as usual, and then I’ll be sending ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ off to the proofer, and will probably start on the next story.

A Day Off. A Day Out.

I have some photos for you today.

Yesterday, Neil, Jenine, Harry and I went for a day out in Rhodes. For us here on Symi to go for a day out on Rhodes involves catching an early morning boat, a 70-minute ferry journey, and lots of walking. (Seven miles, 11,000 steps.) Between us, we took a few shots of the adventure, which included things unusual for us, like going into a supermarket and pushing a trolley as we don’t have them here, visiting the Asian food shop for Neil’s cooking supplies, and visiting the Palace of the Grand Masters of the Knights of Saint John of Rhodes. A bit of a mouthful. As it’s out of season right now, we had the palace to ourselves and spent a good hour admiring the mosaic floors and architecture, learning interesting info, and viewing original drawings of the mosaics which were from 2nd and 3rd centuries, and restored and moved from Kos by the Italians in the 1930s.

Jenine’s going to add a few images as well, but mine and Neil’s are first.

WIP Blog: The Larkspur Mysteries Three and Four

The Work in Progress news this week.

Agents of The Truth

You’ll be as pleased as I am to know that ‘Agents of the Truth’, The Larkspur Mysteries Book Three, is currently being proofread. I hope to have the book layout done by early next week, and I have Andjela on standby to adjust the full cover when I know the exact page count. Those things done, I should be ready to release the book during the first week of February.

There will be a cover reveal and blurb on this blog this coming Saturday, so make sure you are here for that!

Larkspur Four

Meanwhile, those of you who know I write full time for a living won’t be surprised to learn that I have started on book four of the series. So far untitled, and with the story a little vague, I am playing with a few elements. Namely, cartography, intolerance, and a ghost story–although the book will not be a ghost story. I am currently on chapter three of the first draft, have introduced a new character, and set the story in January 1891.

There will be more on this as the weeks go on, and you can catch up with my WIP news every Wednesday right here.

larkspur mysteries
work in progress
WIP

Symi, Greece, in Winter

Hello, and welcome to Saturday’s blog. This week, I thought I’d bring you up to date with what I am doing and what’s happening where I live.

Current work in progress.

If you saw Wednesday’s blog, you’ll know that ‘Agents of the Truth’ (Larkspur Mysteries book three) is just about ready to be proofed. The cover is done, and there will be a cover reveal next Saturday, so make sure you bookmark this site and be among the first to see it.

Writing on Symi in the Winter

Regular readers will know that I live and work on a small Greek island called Symi. When people think of living in such a place, they immediately assume we have sunshine and warm weather all year round. Well, let me put you straight on that! On Thursday morning, I crossed the porch from the side of the house we live in to the side we work in (I call it the workhouse), and entered my study. This is where I have my computer station in the corner, my writing desk against the wall, my research books and other bits and piece I collect, like my horror model figures. I have a carpet on the floor, and at this time of year, the shutters are closed, and I pull a heavy velvet curtain over the window. All the same, the temperature in the room was four degrees, and all I have to heat it with is a two-bar electric fire. After ten minutes at the computer, my fingers hurt, and I had to dig out the fingerless gloves to try and keep them warm.

The view from the house during good weather.

Yesterday, we had clouds and rain first thing in the morning, so it was slightly warmer in the houses, but still only around 10 degrees. There are times between December and March when you can stand in the sun to get warm, and possibly sunbathe, but as soon as you get into the shade, it feels freezing. We don’t have snow here (not often, I think the last decent fall of snow was in the 1980s), but if the wind is from the north, and the runoff from the overflow has been dripping, you can find icicles. I had them on the rosemary bush one winter. Our house faces north and is exposed to the north and west, so winter tends to be a chilly time for us.

The same view in bad weather.

Village Life

Life in a Greek village, in the winter, is a quiet affair. The other night, we invited a friend to go for a drink at the bar where Neil works in the summer (I will be doing it this year for one reason or another), and we made the proviso that if it was closed, we’d go next door. There are two bars in our village square, and one taverna, and they are usually open all year round. On Wednesday afternoon, when we arranged to meet our friend, our usual bar was closed, so was the one next door, and so was the third we tried which is usually open all day. The village was a ghost town. It was cold and rather desolate, so in the end, we decided to buy a bottle of wine and have a drink at home instead. At least it was marginally warmer because our usual place is a large room that’s pretty basic and not usually heated. But it is a change of scenery.

The peace and quiet of village life is an upside for me. In fact, I can think of few downsides. We have three or four ‘super markets’, as they advertise themselves, but don’t think aisles and shopping trollies. These are what most would call mini-markets, but they have everything we could need. More or less. The one we use most is not far from us, and you can often find eggs fresh from the owner’s farm along with the salted fish, barrels of olives and the usual imports. It’s the kind of shop you go to catch up on village news, learn some new and often naughty Greek words, have a laugh and a joke with the owner. In the winter as much as the summer, it’s a social place as well as a necessary one, though it does come with its quirks. In the Greek tradition, they keep their caged songbirds inside, hanging the cages above the deli counter. If it’s busy, you pop behind the counter to take your own halloumi from the fridge, and for some reason, the bottles of bubble bath are tucked in among the wines. That anomaly is made stranger by the fact that very few houses on the island have baths.

Village steps.

Years ago, we used to use another, smaller ‘super market’ because it was closer to our house. I went in one day to look for sage because I was roasting a chicken and wanted to make stuffing. There was none on the shelf, so I asked if there was any somewhere else. There wasn’t, but hold on a moment… The owner phoned her husband at the other end of the island, told him I wanted sage, and the call over, told me he was going to pick me some on his way home and would deliver it to the house later. Now, you don’t get that service at Tesco.

Village life can bring downsides which you have to treat with a smile or a laugh. If it’s raining hard, like it was the other week, it’s simply not safe to go out. We’re on a hillside, and there are no roads in most of the village, it’s all steps. The rainwater runs off the mountain above us and teams down through the narrow alleyways and turns the steps into rapids and small waterfalls. When it’s raining hard, it’s dangerous. End of story. There are certain facilities we don’t have up here. To go to an ATM, pharmacy, council office and other necessary evil, is a walk down 400 steps and, if you don’t drive, take a taxi or bus, 400 back up again. Gossip spreads like cholera, but on the upside, you’re never far from anyone. Some friends needed paracetamol the other day, but couldn’t go out, so I was able to pop some around to their place, drop off the rubbish at the collection point, feed the stray cats and be home within 10 minutes.

Some of my built models (it’s a nostalgia thing)

Most of all, for me, winter life is only a challenge because I know I should be out and about doing some walking and dropping several lockdown pounds, but it’s currently either too cold or too wet. With the shutters closed, there’s no view and no light, so you end up with no sense of time. In the spring and summer, I can see when it’s getting light, down tools and force myself out onto the hillside for a walk. At this time of year, I daren’t open the shutters because that would let in the rain and cold, and I live and work in a twilight world which consists of sitting at the desk or PC, and later, after my six to eight hours a day, sitting on the sofa. There are occasional breaks from this. Last week we went to play cards with Jenine, my PA, though the exercise gained in the 300-step climb to her house was negated by the snacks. One day a week, my godson comes to me for his piano and music lessons, which is always something to look forward to, and now and then, we pop out for a drink at the bar just for a change of view. Only, of course, if they’re open…

So, the winter on Symi continues, and for me, that means staying at home a lot, writing, watching TV, building models now and then, playing or teaching the piano, and on rare occasions, putting on the thermals and taking a walk up and down a hill. That’s how it’s going to be for another couple of months, and then, when spring kicks in, things will change. We’ll open the shutters, put away the heaters, and before we know it, everyone will be saying, ‘Isn’t it hot?’

Symi winter-scape

Meanwhile… I am about to start on the Larkspur Mysteries book four (untitled). I’m not sure of the story yet, but I have a main character in mind, and it might have something to do with the mysteries of maps. I’ll leave you with that thought, but don’t forget…

Agents of the Truth, cover reveal coming next Saturday. Be here, or be in the dark (like I am).

WIP Blog Twelve: Ready for Proofreading

WIP Blog Twelve: Ready for Proofreading

This week’s Work In Progress news is that ‘Agents of the Truth’ is (almost) ready to go to be proofread. I say almost because it’s not booked in until the 25th which gives me enough time to leave it alone and wait for last-minute thoughts to pop into my head, and enough time for my PA to give it a read. She’s already picked up a few typos I’ve missed, and the more of those we find, the better.

Am I happy with it? Yes. When will it be available? Hopefully, by the second week in February, before Valentine’s Day if I can, as I don’t want it to get caught up in the slew of releases that day always brings. So, keep watching the blog and my Facebook page for more news. Also, keep watching for the next WIP, as work on Larkspur Four has already begun.

More about that next week, and coming soon… the cover reveal for ‘Agents if the Truth.’

Clearwater: The Cornish Connection.

Clearwater: The Cornish Connection.

The Clearwater Mysteries open in London’s East End in 1888, and for the first three books, the action centres around Clearwater House in the west of the city. We don’t get to Cornwall until the end of book four, ‘Fallen Splendour,’ and even then, it is only a fleeting visit. Clearwater’s country home, Larkspur Hall, begins to come to life in book five, ‘Bitter Bloodline’, and is one of the main settings for book ten, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’ It is, of course, also the star of the new Larkspur Academy series.

But where and what is Larkspur Hall, and where did it come from?

Larkspur Hall is a fictitious stately home in Cornwall, and a question I am often asked is…

Why Cornwall?

My mother moved from Kent to Cornwall in the 1980s, and I made my first visit there when I was about 20. I looked up where I was going and what I could expect, using books in those days, and asked others who had been there what they thought of the place. I was told to expect impressive cliffs, wild countryside, a dramatic coastline and superb, open vistas dotted with ancient monoliths and settlements.

I arrived at night on the train from Paddington, in itself, a romantic journey, and was taken to a remote farmhouse where my mother was living while she and my step-dad renovated a Wesleyan chapel they were converting into a home. It was dark, of course, but the following morning, I was up early to throw back the curtains and catch my first sight of the promised wild and inspiring countryside… and saw nothing but fog for two days.

Ah well, that was still romantically mysterious enough for me, and when the weather improved, it didn’t take long before I was exploring Penwith by bicycle and falling in love with the county. Penwith is the very last part of the last county in England, home to Land’s End and locations with enigmatic names such as Zennor, Kelynack, and Crows-an-wra where my mother’s chapel was/is. It is also where you find Penzance, of the pirates’ fame, but let’s not bring Gilbert and Sullivan into this.

I have returned to Cornwall many times over the years. My husband and I took the children there one Christmas and stayed in a remote farmhouse on the moors near the Nine Maidens stone circle.

On another visit one night, my antique Ford Escort delivered me to a guesthouse somewhere equally as remote just as the radiator blew up, leaving me somewhat stranded. The upside of this was an uninterrupted and unpolluted night sky. I have never seen so many stars. They seemed so close, I could have lit a cigar from them.

These days, living in Greece, I don’t have the chance to visit Cornwall very often, except in my imagination, and that’s a very tenuous link to the next question: Where and what is Larkspur Hall?

Larkspur Hall  

The name came from my imagination while I was writing book two, ‘Twisted Tracks.’ I just checked the original publication and noted, with alarm, that I had written, ‘Larkspur is Lord Clearwater’s country house two miles north of London.’ Cornwall is actually over 200 miles from London by car, and Bodmin, where Larkspur is now situated, is 259 miles from Knightsbridge and Clearwater House. I re-released ‘Twisted Tracks’ in 2020 and made the change. Larkspur is now described as being ‘miles west of the city’, and I left it vague because, then, I wasn’t then sure exactly where I was going to place it.

I can’t remember when I decided to put Larkspur on the edge of Bodmin Moor. I think it was while creating ‘Fallen Splendour’, but I chose the location for several reasons.

  1. It is remote, which is helpful when I want seclusion and a sense of being cut off from the world. Very useful for when we have an assassin stalking the grounds.
  2. The distance is handy for when we have a race against time. In the late 1880s, it would have taken up to 12 hours to reach Larkspur from London by train. When the race to stop a murder is on, changing lines, the weather and conflicting timetables all play a part in delaying the hero and heightening the tension.
  3. Bodmin Moor is wild, subject to rough weather, has an ancient history and is romantic. Moors have always been popular with romantic writers (Egdon Heath for Hardy, the Yorkshire Moors for Emily Brontë), because of their combination of loneliness, mystery and tradition.
  4. I like Cornwall. Simple
A beautiful and dramatic sunrise over Bodmin Moor

Is Larkspur Hall based on a real property?

Yes and no. I based it on several. When you read the Clearwater Mysteries, you will find characters mention how the Hall has been added to over the years, how it started life as an abbey, has a square tower, church-like pillars in the grand hall, and what I call a horseshoe staircase, which is actually an imperial staircase. (See photo, for the shape. At Larkspur, the stairs and balustrades are stone.)

An imperial staircase (sometimes erroneously known as a “double staircase”) is the name given to a staircase with divided flights. Usually, the first flight rises to a half-landing and then divides into two symmetrical flights both rising with an equal number of steps and turns to the next floor. [Wikipedia.]

This is a central point for a few action scenes in the Clearwater and Larkspur Mysteries, and appeals to my sense of the theatrical. As does the tower, the ruined church in the grounds, and the maze of servants’ passages. Larkspur is said to have 16 bedrooms, but they are actually suites, so include a sitting room, dressing room and bathroom. Thanks to Archer, the Hall is now powered by electricity and the servants’ rooms all have gas heaters and hot and cold running water.

The inspiration for the outside of the Hall came from several places. Lanhydrock House is one. Although Larkspur is taller and doesn’t have the protruding wings of Lanhydrock, the gatehouse is similar. (See photo.) You could also look at Highclare Castle where Downton Abbey is filmed, but if you do, only look at the front, and move its main tower from behind the building and stick it on the end of the west wing.

By the way, Lanhydrock is just south of Bodmin, and about six miles away from Larkspur.

There is an interpretation of Larkspur Hall on the cover of ‘Bitter Bloodline.’

I have an Ordnance Survey map of Bodmin Moor, and on it, I have marked the Larkspur estate. If you wanted to look up the estate boundary (on OS Explorer map 109), you would find it like this: The northern boundary abuts the village of Waterloo, and runs east to Medland, drops south from there to Fore Downs, west from there to Trago and beyond, and runs northwards back to Waterloo via Trewardale and Trewint. It takes in all of what is now the military land marked ‘danger area’, the A30 doesn’t exist, and I have wiped out several villages and hamlets. Sorry about that.

The Hall would be situated at Pounds Conce, and Larkspur Village would be roughly where Millpool is, but it’s all made up. Having said that, some places mentioned in the Clearwater and Larkspur Mysteries are real. Colvannick and the standing stones, Pengelly Farm, Blisland and many of the ancient sites mentioned in the books.

Which is another segue into…

Standing Stones. Fact or Fiction?

Featuring The Colvannick Stone Row

Fact: There are hundreds of ancient sites to visit in Cornwall, including the Colvannick Stone Row, the centre of the first two Larkspur Mysteries. Stone circles, monoliths, ancient settlements, barrows, cairns and fogous can be found almost anywhere in the county, and Bodmin Moor has its fair share. These were the inspiration for the mystery, ‘Keepers of the Past’, where most of what you read is based on existing monuments, history and fact. Most of, note, not all. To find out more, you can read the author’s notes at the back of the book. In the new series, the Larkspur Mysteries, I am putting these notes to give the reader some insight into how I mix fact and fiction. That is something I have been doing since Silas first appeared in ‘Deviant Desire’ looking through the gutters of Greychurch (Whitechapel), while Archer was at home in North Riverside (Knightsbridge), and Fecker was working at the docks in Limedock (Limehouse).

In the up-coming book three, ‘Agents of the Truth’, the characters visit the British Museum Reading Room, the Inns of Court, Newgate and Wormwood Scrubbs prisons, all real and described as they were in 1890. They also visit the Cheap Street Mission (fictional), and meet real one-day famous archaeologists, including Howard Carter, then aged 16. They also get to explore Larkspur Hall and other parts of Cornwall, as will you when you read ‘Agents of the Truth’, due out in February.

The Clearwater Mysteries

The Larkspur Mysteries

WIP Blog Eleven: Nearly There

WIP Blog Eleven: Nearly There

Welcome to the Work In Progress blog. It has been 11 weeks since I started on ‘Agents of the Truth,’ and I have just finished line-editing the manuscript. I have just under two weeks before it goes to proofing, so there is still time to make adjustments should I need to.

This week, I thought I would give you an extract to whet your appetite and leave it at that.

This is from chapter two. To set the scene: Archer, Lord Clearwater, is to hold a masked ball at Larkspur Hall. The newspapers have already covered the story and prematurely announced that the Queen’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor (Prince Eddy, as he was also known) is to attend. Invitations have been sent out, and Archer and Tom have been dealing with the acceptance letters.


There was no letterhead, no date, and not even a letter. Just a piece of plain paper on which were glued a series of words in different fonts. At first, he assumed it was James replying to his invitation in a way designed to be a joke. The unconnected words, however, suggested something far more sinister.

Prick, Bleed, Poison, Die, Wrong…?

They brought a memory of his youth, and although it was partly pleasurable, it was mainly unnerving.
‘What is it?’ Tom was at the door with a collection of envelopes. ‘Are you unwell?’
Archer slipped the note beneath a book and looked up, feigning ease. ‘Hm? Oh, no. All is well, thank you. Just, er… Just pondering Shakespeare.’
‘What on earth for?’ Tom took three long strides into the room and placed the letters on the desk. ‘Never mind. Here are today’s acceptances. The genuine ones. Where are you going?’
Archer had collected his jacket and was making for the door with his pace and pulse quickening. ‘To the library,’ he said. ‘I have an urgent meeting.’
‘With whom?’
‘The Merchant of Venice.’


And so, the mystery begins… and deepens… and becomes more mysterious… and then another mystery starts… and things really get interesting!

Line Edits and How I Go About Them

Line Edits and How I Go About Them

Here’s a note on editing.

I am working on chapter 23 of ‘Agents of the Truth’, line-checking for grammar, typos, consistency, through-line and style and finding the occasional ‘ouch!’ I just found one right at the beginning of the chapter. The previous chapter ended with a fight, and in my first draft, chapter 23 started with:

Dalston was disorientated. Everything had happened so fast. His throat burned, his lungs tore as he gasped for breath, and the room was a blur through watering eyes. His ears, however, heard the next words without hindrance.

Okay, you say, what is wrong with that? For me, reading it again after some time, it is this:

Dalston was disorientated. First of all, it’s a passive sentence, so not brilliant as a chapter opening and, in the context of a fight scene, passive sentences are not immediate or ‘action’ enough. Secondly, it’s a classic ‘tell’ sentence, and we all know the rule of ‘show don’t tell.’ Dalston was disorientated gives the reader no opportunity to feel disorientation, and therefore, no chance to connect with the character.

Then we have:

Everything had happened so fast. What’s wrong with that? It’s true, isn’t it?
Answer: Yes, it’s true, but it should be what we, the reader, just experienced at the end of chapter 22. In fact, we did experience it because the fight scene was a short, sharp shock, as W.S. Gilbert would have it. Therefore, the reader doesn’t need to be reminded, rather, shouldn’t need reminding. The previous scene should have shown us Everything had happened so fast.
Secondly, it’s a cliché and an opt-out for the writer. Again, if what we’ve just read left us feeling breathless and bashed about, there is no need for the writer to remind us.

His throat burned, his lungs tore as he gasped for breath, and the room was a blur through watering eyes. Isn’t this also telling? Well, yes, but then all storytelling telling, but how do you avoid that?

Sometimes you can’t, and you just want to set the scene and move on, but when editing line by line, you have the opportunity to stop, take stock and start again. How can I make that line better?

His throat was aflame. Better, because we imagine what that felt like and, if we’ve ever had a sore throat, we can associate ‘aflame’ with the feeling.

His lungs tore as he gasped for breath. I’m letting that one go, because it tells us he was gasping for air, and the word ‘tore’ is vague enough to make us think of pain.

… and the room was a blur through watering eyes. Yes, well, that’s rubbish, if you ask me. It’s too clumsy. He saw the room through watery eyes, is more precise, but how about, his vision was blurred? Isn’t that, again, telling, not showing?

The room came into view as a series of shifting shadows and wavy outlines, unsettled in his watery vision until he wiped his eyes. Getting there, but too long. Needs breaking up, or editing down, and I might change wavy to distorted, and unsettled to swimming.

His ears, however, heard the next words without hindrance. Eek! I know what I meant to say, but surely, there’s a better way? Do your ears hear? Or is it your brain? Why mention ears at all? It’s Dalston who is hearing, isn’t it?

He heard the next words without hindrance. Simple, to the point, but not good. I don’t like starting sentences with ‘He’ or ‘She’ because it’s too easy. I have read so many books where we have He did this. He did that. He saw this… Maybe it’s a personal thing, but I try to avoid such sentence starts (though I admit they are sometimes unavoidable). Without hindrance… Clumsy! The voice, however, was clear. Simple, and leads into the next line, which is a short speech from another character and the inciting incident for the chapter to come. ‘Mr Blaze. — is hurt. Can you stand?’
(I omitted the character name so as not to spoil anything for you.)

Now then. I am not saying I am the master of this kind of self-appraisal and editing, and you may not agree with what I am saying. That’s fine. In fact, that’s good, because we should all have our own style. What I am saying is that we owe it to our readers and ourselves to be critical of our own work, and should strive to make it the best it can be. While line editing, we have the chance to self-analyse and be as critical as we can or want to be. It’s not easy, and you can tie yourself in knots over it to the point where you mess up your rewrite. That’s why I always keep a copy of the first draft chapters; I can always start again. It also takes time to pick apart every sentence, and if you’re as impatient to publish and move on as I am, impatience is something you must learn to control.

There are times when you become so involved in reading or get caught up with the story, that you let dodgy lines go, and I am as guilty of this as any writer. Again, self-control is called for (or a third-party editor you trust and can pay to do the job for you), and thus, you need to ensure you have set aside enough time for the work.

Currently, I am ‘between jobs’ or ‘resting’ as they say in the theatre, and looking for freelance work, so my own writing is my full-time job, and I have plenty of time for it. If you don’t, then you will have to make time.

The opening paragraph of chapter 23 took me roughly five minutes to rewrite. A year ago, it would have taken me ten, and a year before that, I probably wouldn’t have changed it at all. Experience comes with time and training, and in a year’s time, maybe I won’t need to rewrite as many first-draft paragraphs as I do now. I am already rewriting fewer than I used to because I am writing better first drafts. The message, is to be self-critical, take your time, and always think, ‘Is that the best I can do?

Here’s the paragraph again as I have left it for now. There will be another read/draft once I have finished the line edits on the entire 31 chapters, and who knows, by then I might come up with something even better.

His throat was aflame, and his lungs tore as he gasped for breath. The room came into view as a series of shifting shadows and distorted outlines that swam in his watery vision. The voice, however, was clear.
‘Mr Blaze. — is hurt. Can you stand?’
Dalston wiped his eyes…

‘Agents of the Truth’, the Larkspur Mysteries Book Three, is due for publication in February 2022.

WIP Blog Ten: ‘Agents of the Truth’ Draft Three

 

WIP Blog Ten: ‘Agents of the Truth’ Draft Three

I am in week ten of writing the next Larkspur Mystery, ‘Agents of the Truth.’

Today, I will set about chapter 15, giving it a line edit. I’ve spent the last few days editing every line in the book from the start to the end of chapter 31, going through them for grammar, ease of reading, and picking up as many typos as I can.

My writing process so far:

Draft One: Write the story for me and keep each chapter as a separate file, titled by Number, Day of story, Point of Chapter. I just sit down and write it and don’t care how well I write the sentences but keep in mind the plot, character arcs and consistency.

Draft Two: I read-through for plotting, pacing and repetition. I eradicate what has become unnecessary; add in what I forgot last time. If I notice a typo, I run a search/find in Word for that typo, to check I’ve not done it elsewhere. I often do this with names. I might write Jams instead of James, so I search/find ‘James’ just to be sure it wasn’t a one-off. At this stage, the MS is in one large document. *Tip* Add oft-mistyped words to your autocorrect list.

Draft Three: I pull the draft two MS into separate chapters again, and run ProWritingAid (PWA) for grammar and style, overused words, sentence length, clichés and then, once again, style. This process picks up on the repetition of words and verbs (too many have/had/has in one block of text, for example). It identifies long sentences where I’ve joined separate thoughts/threads together with and, but, while… I also avidly check for adverbs. (Words like ‘avidly’.) These can be signs of lazy writing, and influence the ‘show don’t tell’ rule. Better than writing, ‘he said angrily’ is to show the character being angry. The PWA check also helps with typos and punctuation.

That’s where I am right now. Draft four will be another read-through before the MS goes to be proofread. I should point out that, if I feel it’s warranted, I will completely rewrite a chapter or section from scratch. I did this more when I was starting out than I now have a handle on construction and flow. These days, I know when to stop writing in draft one, tear that page out and start again, rather than leave in a substantial chunk or chapter to be dealt with later. So, drafts two onwards tend to be editing rather than rewriting.

And, while that’s going on, I have made a date with my proof-reader, so I have until January 24th to complete my edits, and I have sent a cover idea to Andjela and asked her to think about the image. The images today are some of the ‘idea shots’ I sent her.

The cover won’t be of a cute young man this time, because ‘Agents of the Truth’ is more of a classic detective story than it is about a dreamy young thing falling in love. It’s an adventure that changes a character’s life (two characters, actually), and it follows on from book two ‘Keepers of the Past.’

I am aiming for mid-February as a release date (while avoiding the Valentine’s Day deluge of romantic shorts that flood Amazon and KU every year.)

If you’ve not started the Larkspur series yet, you have time to begin at ‘Guardians of the Poor’ and enjoy the ride.

See you on Saturday for my regular, weekly author’s blog.

Jack