Guest Post with Ally Lester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warning! Deep Water

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

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

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

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

BUY JMS BOOKS $2.99 : WIDE BUY LINKS TBA

Excerpt

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

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

There was clearly a story there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

About A. L. Lester

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

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

Guest Post from M. A. Church

Today’s blog is going to take us far away from Larkspur Hall and my Victorian mystery writing. Please let me introduce M.A. Church who spends most of her author life amongst aliens on far away planets. Her current romance series are extremely popular and are described as “Awesome SciFi”. She is here to tell us a little more about how the series began and to share a couple of excerpts to tempt you into trying something new. Welcome!


Hey y’all! I’m M.A. Church. I’ve been doing this writing stuff now since 2010. I write mostly paranormal and scifi. I guess the books I’m best known for are The Harvest series, which qualified me for SFWA. This series of books is mpreg, but the actual birthing happens in book two, The Harvest: Journey’s End.

So, do aliens interest you?

What about spaceships?

How about a breeding program?

The Harvest: Taken is the first book in the Tah’Narian universe. It covers Dale’s journey through one of the scariest times in human history. It’s a story of forgiveness, righting wrongs, learning to trust, and finally, falling in love. Sounds interesting? Then I hope you’ll join Dale and the gang on a journey which will lead to the love of a lifetime.

The spin-off series, The Next Generation, follows the young from The Harvest series. I’m working on the last book in that series now. It’s finally Laken’s turn to find the love of his life.

These books will take you on a nonstop adventure through several worlds. Four couples are bound together by the cosmos, and each has a different path they must tread.

This is where it all began:

My name is Dale Michaels. A simple name, right? Nothing very memorable about it, that’s for sure. Or about me, either. I’m just a regular guy with average looks, a loving family who didn’t care I was gay, and good friends.

Just a guy.

Little did I know just how special I was to one Tah’Narian spaceship captain named Keyno Shou, or how he would change my life. *shakes head* Don’t think he swept me off my feet. He didn’t. What he did do was harvested under the agreed age limit, take me from my family, mutate my DNA so I could have kids, tell me I have a deadly disease, claim me as his mate, and destroy the life I knew.

I was not happy, to say the least. Pissed didn’t even cover what I felt. But what’s a guy to do on a spaceship orbiting Earth surrounded by a bunch of aliens with technology far more advanced than ours?

While I was still trying to figure out how to handle the attraction I had for Keyno, a bunch of men who were harvested revolted and tried to take over Keyno’s ship… and I got to see how deeply Keyno cared for me. I also met the person who staged the rebellion, the infamous gang leader, Colt 45.

This is the beginning of my story; a story that’s action-packed, emotionally tough, and truly is the love of a lifetime.

~Michael

The Harvest: Taken

Blurb

We are not alone.

In the year 2050 mankind’s never-ending quest for proof life exists in the universe is answered—in the form of massive space ships that appear without warning above the capitals of all major nations. The name of their planet is Tah’Nar—and is dying. The United States sets up a lottery system, and each young man between the ages of twenty-three and twenty-eight is assigned a number.

Once a year, for the next five years, numbers will be drawn and a new set of one thousand males will be collected. The media coined the expression ‘The Harvest’ for when the Tah’Narian’s collect these young men.

Captain Keyno Landium Shou is a Tah’Narian starship captain who has been granted the right to take a mate, any mate, he wants during the last harvest on Earth. Dale was seventeen when the aliens first appeared. His parents assumed he’d be safe since the final collection would be done before he turned twenty-three. He didn’t fall within the guidelines established, so they took for granted he had nothing to fear.

They were wrong.

Buy link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00O4E6Y7Q

Excerpt from The Harvest: Taken

It was in the year 2050 when humanity found out that it was, indeed, not alone in the universe.

They appeared without warning above the capitals of all major nations. The huge, menacing, and completely unresponsive space ships dominated the skies, sending the media into a complete tailspin. The governments of our world argued back and forth on what to do. But, in the end, they did nothing.

First contact came within hours of the sightings. The question of what these aliens wanted prompted emergency closed-door meetings by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Union of South American Nations, the African Union, the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, and NATO. The media speculated endlessly. The talks with the aliens lasted for two days, while the world waited and watched. Early on the morning of the third day, news agencies released the details.

The name of their planet was Tah’Nar—and it was dying. Originally, the Tah’Narians were an intersexed warrior race. Chemical warfare had essentially rendered them sterile. Many scientists, from all over the world, eagerly volunteered their assistance to aid the alien race.

After about a week of this, a press release from our government stated that the two strands of DNA were too fragile to be frozen and transported through space. The release claimed that the nucleobases—the four molecules that form the genetic building blocks of DNA—would be damaged and might even disintegrate once the alien starships jumped to star drive, the method used to travel through time and space so quickly. Simply put, it was easier to protect people than extracted DNA.

Each government reached agreements—and boy, didn’t that take a while—that these men would return to Earth once the program was completed. Here in the United States a lottery system was set up. Our government assigned a number to young men between the ages of twenty-three and twenty-eight. Then once a year, for the next five years, the lotto took place.

The benefits to our own world hovered foremost in the mind of every government official present at the meeting. The Tah’Narians required DNA for their harvesting program. Participating males were required to transport to their world since Earthlings couldn’t duplicate their technology. This, of course, triggered all sorts of questions. Why couldn’t this technically advanced race build what they needed to extract the DNA? The story had more holes in it than Swiss cheese.

Those unfortunate men were collected and escorted to holding centers where a battery of medical and psychological tests was run on the subjects. Once they passed the tests, transportation to waiting spaceships occurred. Other industrialized nations followed our example and set up their own lottery systems. Word soon leaked that our government targeted gay men, but officials vehemently denied the rumors.

The media coined the expression ‘The Harvest’ for the times when the Tah’Narians would return to collect these young men.

Added bonus! Excerpt from the last book in The Next Gen series, Bound by War (coming soon):

THE SCENT of food woke Torin. His mouth watered, and his stomach growled.

Opening his eyes, he surveyed the room. Curtains now enclosed the medibed giving him some privacy. Machines beeped, reading his vitals. Nevertheless, none of that indicated how much time had passed. His muscles warmed as blood flow increased, and his stomach rumbled again, more loudly this time.

He heard a low chime of bells and the scent of the ocean washed over him.

“Well, I’d say you’re hungry. I can hear that all the way over here. Just a moment, and I’ll be right there.”

So the male hadn’t broken his word. Ridiculous how reassuring that was. Laken’s voice soothed him, and the sweet melody from the bells Laken wore in his hair had infiltrated Torin’s sleep.

Blishue didn’t depend on anyone, much less let their guard down, and that included around his own kind. But he’d slept soundly with a stranger next to him. That was troublesome. As were the annoying IVs. That he hadn’t ripped out them out was its own minor miracle. Being drugged left him vulnerable.

How many hits to the head had he taken?

He stretched, his joints popping. His mind was heavy and sluggish, but there was no pain. He eyed the IV. This was ludicrous. He couldn’t think straight. Maybe he should yank it out and—

“Ah, yeah, I wouldn’t do that if I was you.” Laken nudged the curtain open and ducked inside.

The sight of Laken hit Torin like a space shuttle. How had he not noticed the ice-blue gemstones that sparkled in the overhead lights? They winked from his ears, wrists, ankles, and nipples. The male had his nipples pierced.

His.

Nipples.

Pierced.

Here’s my deets:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/M.A.-Church/e/B007A8JA4C

Newsletter: https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/y5n3y2

M.A. Church’s Author Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/421945898329522

Blog: http://machurch00.blogspot.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/nomoretears00

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/machurch00

Tik Tok: https://www.tiktok.com/@machurch00?lang=en

The Harvest FB fan page: https://www.facebook.com/theharvest00

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/nomoretears00

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/5141393.M_A_Church

Email: nomoretears00@hotmail.com

If you join my newsletter, you get the bonus short story from the The Harvest world–Chad’s story! https://storyoriginapp.com/giveaways/d6c37b98-9af1-11eb-826f-f774e9edc2fc

Guest Post from Merry Farmer

Today I am excited to welcome, fellow MM Author, Merry Farmer to the blog. Merry has just celebrated the latest release in her Slippery Slope Series set amongst the gay club scene of 1890’s New York.

So, whilst my Clearwater Crew were solving mysteries in London and Cornwall let’s sit back and learn a little about what was happening on the other side of the Atlantic. Welcome Merry!

The Gay Club Scene of New York…in the 1890s

I have to giggle a little. Before I had even published the first book in my new series, The Slippery Slope—A Touch of Romance—I had people raising an eyebrow at me, scoffing, and saying “The gay club scene of the 1890s????” Saying that as though there couldn’t possibly be any way that gay men were able to live their lives openly, let alone had a thriving club scene back then.

This makes me giddy, because it means I get to share some of that lost knowledge that historians of the mid-20th century so effectively (and regrettably) swept under the carpet. Because the fact of the matter is that there was a concerted effort on the part of historians in “the golden years” of the 20th century to brainwash everyone into thinking that gay men have always been in the closet, ashamed of themselves, and terrified of coming out, lest they be killed.

Guess what? The truth couldn’t be further from that. While it’s true that there were laws against sodomy (in England) and gay marriage was a century off, the acceptance of alternative lifestyles has waxed and waned throughout history. It’s hard for some people to believe, but prior to the 20th century, there were actually times when the LGBTQ community was left alone or, even, yes, allowed to thrive without too much interference.

For most people prior to the 20th century, a big part of this was because ALL stories of intimacy and anything that so much as hinted at sexual relationships—even heterosexual intimacy and relationships—was something people just didn’t talk about openly. Period. And when there isn’t a microscope or social media coverage focused on you twenty-four/seven, people are able to get away with so much more than we in the era of instant communication can comprehend.

But when it came to the gay club scene of New York City—specifically The Bowery—in the 1890s, things were as open and publicized as could be.

The Bowery 1905

The Bowery was well known for being a center of “sin” within New York City. The clubs and brothels that filled downtown became so popular that new slang terms were invented by young people from uptown, from outside of the city, and even tourists coming from overseas, to describe it. “Going slumming” was so popular that guide books to the seedier clubs were produced so that visitors could get their fill. Clubs in The Bowery that featured drag queens (also a historically accurate term of the era) and male prostitutes were some of the favorite “dives” for people to visit.

The Bowery Queen. A drag performer circa 1890s
“The Bowery Queen.” Drag performer images circa 1890s
(https://www.boweryalliance.org/did-you-know-this-about-the-bowery/)

For the men who made the clubs of The Bowery their home—or their home away from home—however, these places provided a much-needed safe haven where they could be themselves, if only in the evenings and on the weekends. In his seminal work Gay New York, historian George Chauncey writes at length, using first-hand accounts collected and recorded from the 1920s through the 1960s by men who lived in this scene, about the lives gay men lived there.

The club scene of the 1890s and early part of the 20th century was a place where the rules weren’t just relaxed, they were thrown out the window. Though it was illegal to cross-dress in public in New York during this era, presentation of all sorts was accepted and encouraged in clubs like The Slide (the actual club I’ve modeled the club in my series on). Even though The Slide was raided by police and closed down in 1891, its patrons simply moved their activities to other clubs in The Bowery and resumed the wild good times that they had enjoyed there.

The clubs were more than just scenes of debauchery and excitement, though. They were places where men could be themselves, if only for a while. The very term “coming out” was coined as a result of the “debutante balls” that were held in clubs in New York—ones in The Bowery, but also clubs that catered specifically to men of color in locations like Harlem—where gay men presented themselves as their more feminine persona for the first time. These coming out balls were so popular that they were reported on in newspapers of the time, and they were considered highlight events for people of all levels and types of societies.

My hope in writing The Slippery Slope series is to capture some of this exciting time in LGBTQ History, and to shed light on the things that have been deliberately buried by biased historians. George Chauncey is just one of many historians working in this “new” area of study, and I’m certain that even more, fascinating information will come out in years to come that will further change our view of what life was like for gay men back then.


A Touch of Romance, released 15th April

Blurb

He crossed the ocean to escape from love…

Journalist Marcus Albright did not run away from his London home when he accepted an assignment in New York City. His interest in writing a series of articles about the popular club scene of The Bowery has nothing to do with the disastrous end of a long-term relationship, or his desire to stay as far away from love and commitment that he possibly can. His only concern is enjoying the vibrancy and color that The Slippery Slope is famous for.

…but love has other plans…

Jasper Werther loves his wild, flamboyant life, but the moment Marcus steps into The Slippery Slope, he knows he wants more. Particularly after spending a romantic night out on the town with Marcus as his drag persona, Blaise Rose. After waiting a lifetime for acceptance of everything he is, Jasper believes it’s finally within his grasp.

…until heartbreak strikes.

When a policeman with ambitions threatens to shut down The Slippery Slope, Jasper has a bigger problem than trying to woo a man who has sworn never to fall in love again. Everything within Marcus tells him not to get involved, but he is drawn back to Jasper, no matter how hard he fights it. Will Jasper and Marcus get a second chance at love, or will the pain of the past keep them apart?

Fall in love with romance, a high society ball, a wild, downtown party, a trip to Coney Island, a colorful cast of characters, and a last-minute confession that will keep you turning pages!

PLEASE BE ADVISED: Steam level – very spicy! And yes, this is an m/m romance involving friends to lovers, second chances, and fabulous drag queens, so if that’s not your thing, feel free to pass on this one.

You can keep up to date with Merry’s news at http://merryfarmer.net and she invites you to sign up for her quarterly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/RQ-KX

Coming Soon!


Character Interview with Frank Andino from The Larkspur Academy

Frank Andino was one of the first men to join the Larkspur Academy. In July 1890, when we first enter Academy House in ‘Guardians of the Poor’, Frank is already there. The narrator introduces him thus: the dark man who had sworn had a more familiar East End accent and was known for using swearwords in every other sentence.

Frank certainly uses colourful language, as you will see.

Frank Andino plays a major part in the 4th Larkspur Mystery (due out in April 2022), so I thought it was time we knew a little more about him. Just after New Year 1891, when he was twenty years old, I met him in the comfortable drawing room of Academy House and asked him a few probing questions.

Hello, Frank. Let’s start with the basics. Can you tell me your full name and if you have any nicknames?

Yeah, alright, if you must. Me name…? If you want the full whack, try putting your lips around Ozias Philimonas Andinopoulos.

I s’pose Frank’s me nickname, and I’ll tell you why. There ain’t too many Greeks in London, see, and we had the tailoring business. You put up a shop sign saying Tailoring by Athanasios Andinopoulos and Son, and not only won’t you get much trade, you’d run out of flippin’ paint. Athanasios is me dad, see. Calls himself Tony. Calls me Frank ’cos it’s more English. Easier to fit in when you’re an immigrant.

So, you weren’t born in London?

No, mate. Fucking Greek, ain’t I? Mind you, I was only born in Greece. Came to London when I was a moro—a baby—so that’s all I’ve ever known.

I can see you quite clearly, of course, but for our readers, can you describe your features so they can picture you?

Yeah, alright. About five feet seven, strong build, see. Stocky, they call it. But furry, dark skin, handsome as fuck. [He winks at me in a suggestive manner.] Black hair, bit curly. Dark brown eyes, a smile that melts a man’s heart… Usual kind of Greek looks. Classic Greek grower down there, too, if you know what I mean.

I didn’t, so I asked, and he treated me to a description of his private parts.

Want to see?

No, thank you. Let’s move on.

Tell me about your childhood.

Bloody marvellous, mate. Except it weren’t, of course. Me mum and dad, see, they came over in 1870. They was living in a small village on a small island, and there weren’t nothing going on apart from fishing and farming, and me dad had bigger aspirations than looking after goats and fucking sheep. I mean… just goats and sheep. So, he borrowed some money from the family, and just after I were born, got us a passage on a steamer. Came to London, found work easy enough ’cos he’s a talented tailor, and after a few years of that, set himself up with his own shop, Tony Andino, Tailors. Don’t need such a big shop sign, see.

Anyway, they had a decent income. I got the basic schooling but didn’t pay much attention to it, ’cos it were all words and shit, but I was really good with numbers. Most days, I’d help me dad behind the shop, picking up scraps, sweeping, he taught me how to stitch then line-out, use patterns, cut and stuff, so I ended up working in the shop with him instead of going to school. This were in Greychurch, not far from Shoreditch where there was a good tailoring trade, see? Me mum had fucked off by them. Some grimy French sailor, me dad said, but whatever. Me and dad worked the shop from when I were about ten up to last year.So, me childhood… Well, it were alright, I suppose. Work, mainly. Work and counting numbers, ’cos I’ve always been fascinated by numbers. Sewing. Did a lot of that. Didn’t have much mates ’cos the Greeks in London, see, well, there ain’t so many of us, but me dad did make me learn the fucking language, so at least I speak both now. Probably speak Greek better than I do bloody English.

Next?

Next, I’d like to get personal.

Bet you would, malaka. Nah, go on. What?

You are twenty now, and you are living in a house with other men… of a similar heart, we might say. Have you become friends with any of them? Or more than friends?

I’m everyone’s mate. Joe, the deaf bloke, he’s me mate. Then there’s Clem. I’m helping him set up a business ’cos that’s his talent, but he ain’t so good with accounts and shit, and that’s what I do. Dalston’s a good mate too, but as for more than friends? You mean sex and that, yeah? Being honest, no, not got anyone like that.

But you’d like to have someone?

Wouldn’t we all, malaka? Yeah, ’course I would. I mean, I won’t lie to you. When I first saw Dalston, I thought, ‘Fuck, he’s a handsome lad, wouldn’t mind having a go around that lanky body and see what he’s hiding in his slant pockets. You know, what’s he got behind his fly piece? I’d love to measure the inseam from the lower ankle to the crotch bottom and above, if you get me. But Dalston was already stitched up with Joe, so that was out. Since then… No, not got anyone special, but all me mates are special, and I’d do anything for them.

You’ve not had a first kiss yet then?

Fuck off, ’course I have. But I ain’t telling you about it.

Oh, alright then. I was sixteen, and he was a tar off the ships down Limehouse, and it only lasted, like, three seconds ’cos he was drunk and thought I was a Ratcliffe whore. Long story. Too much beer, not enough gas light.

And an accidental kiss is as far as you’ve gone?

Oh no, mate. I gone further than that. I had to when me dad got put inside. Had to make a living somehow. That’s how I ended up down the alleys of Greychurch with the other lads, putting it about for a sixpence so’s we could eat. Not saying it’s the best way of making a shilling ’cos it ain’t. It’s dirty, dangerous and a bit more than dodgy, what with the rozzers on one side and the creeps and crazies on the other. Still, when you’re young, got a fit frame, no shame and a fucking Greek grower… Well, Lord Sir Ponsonby Ponce will pay a good guinea for a good grinding. Only thing is, as the lads said, you got a be ready to be ground if you want to make a pound.

I see. And does that mean you don’t believe in true love, or finding a soul mate?

Why should it? It were a job, that renting lark, but it’s in me past now. I would say it were behind me, but that’s where it was a lot of the time, and having your face pressed against a slimy Greychurch wall ain’t the way to find true love. But I still believe in it.

One day, someone’s going to come along, and soon as I see him, I’ll know. It’ll feel right, like two halves of the same pattern coming together in one seam.

Here, look at this… [He takes out his pocket watch.] Don’t know how he knows what to write, but every man at the academy gets one of these from Fleet, see? We’re here for a couple of days, and one of these pops up, and everyone’s’ is different. He gets the backs engraved with something, and mine says, ‘Love is one soul in two bodies.’ Fleet said it were his version of something said by this bloke called Aristotle, but it’s what I believe, so there you go.

Who or what would you die for, or otherwise go to extremes for?

Me mates. Next?

Who do you look up to?

Dalston ’cos he’s six feet tall. Mr Andrej at the stables ’cos he’s six feet four. Nah, only joking. I’d say me dad, ’cos he took the rap for me and went to gaol when it were me what fiddled the tax, but apart from him, I have to say Fleet.

He’s the man who runs the Larkspur Academy, yes?’

He’s a fucking nutter, is what Fleet is, but yeah, he somehow runs this place. He ain’t a teacher, but he is a professor, or was. He ain’t a dad figure, though he’s always there with some bit of advice when you need it. He knows just about everything about anything, and he’s right smart.  Dresses like a clown, and has some weird habits, but he always knows the right thing to say at the right time, though he never tells you what to do.

And what is the greatest thing Fleet has taught you since you have been living at the academy?

Bloody hell… That’s a hard one. You don’t actually know Fleet is teaching you anything, see? Not at the time. But later, you realise he’s said something you took in, and he were dead right about it. Er… He teaches us words, how to get along… The main thing, though, I s’pose, is that he’s taught me it ain’t wrong to be loyal to your mates, ’cos in this world, if you ain’t got mates, what have you got?

I understand the academy is only a temporary arrangement. With that in mind, where do you see yourself in five years?

How the fuck do I know, malaka?

Yeah, you’re right, though. Some men have only stayed a couple of months here before Lord Clearwater’s organisation found them a decent job and place to live. Others, like me and Clem, we’ve been here eight months already, but there’s no pressure for you to move on or nothing. Right now, I’m helping Clem organise his business what he’s doing with His Lordship, and Fleet says I should put me mind to bookkeeping, but we’ll see. Me dad’s getting out of debtor’s prison soon-ish, and I’d like to bring him down here to Cornwall and set him up somewhere, so I might go back to tailoring, accounting, but probably not renting, though I don’t mind a bit of anonymous tickle-tail now and then.

What I’d like though, would be to have a safe place to be with me man, whoever that turns out to be. Don’t mind where, nor what I’m doing, being honest, as long as I got good mates to look after and a beau to be with. We’ll see, though. Like I always say, you take each day as it slaps you round the head, and fucking get on with it.

We are running out of time, so just two more questions. Tell me, Frank, just for fun, what do you have in your pocket right now?

You’re a nosey fucker, ain’t ya? Right now, I got me pocket watch in me waistcoat, an handkerchief in me jacket along with… Ten shillings and sixpence ha’penny, and a note to remind me to… Oh, shit. I forgot to do that. Never mind. And in me trousers, I got me classic Greek grower hanging at five but ready to go to seven. Next?

Finally, I understand there have been sightings of a ghost on the Larkspur estate. What is your take on that?

Bloody hell, malaka, why didn’t you ask me this before? This kind of thing’s right up me back jacksie ’cos me dad saw a ghost once. Yeah, I don’t know what’s been going on out there, but people are talking of seeing this weird thing late at night, and they’ve been hearing strange noises inside the Hall as well. Arthur… he’s one of the lads what works in the kitchens, but comes over here to deliver messages and shit… He says some of the maids are thinking of leaving ’cos they’re scared. You don’t need to be scared of ghosts, I say, you just got to believe in them. Arthur said, His Lordship and Mr Payne, his steward what runs the estate, they’s thinking of bringing in someone to hunt it, you know, like they do. Don’t know who, mind you, but if they don’t sort it out soon, he’s not going to have any staff left.

You’ve not seen it yet?

No, mate. But I hope to.

You think ghosts are real?

’Course I fucking do, and I tell you what, given half a chance, I’ll prove it.


The fourth book in The Larkspur Mystery series is due for release in April this year.

Ghostly sightings among the ruined abbey, things that are not what they seem, and perhaps love for Frank Andino. We shall have to wait and see.

The Larkspur Mysteries

2021 Review

Hello and Happy New Year!

To start 2022, I thought it would be fun to invite some of my author friends over to highlight some of our achievements and memories in 2021, and say what we are looking forward to in 2022.

Today, we have brief chats with Matt Converse, Fearne Hill, Glenn Quigly, Ally Lester and… who was the other? Oh yes. Me. Let me get the ball rolling by answering the same questions as I asked my friends.

An author, thinking on his birthday while in Croatia.

My 2021 highlight as a writer

For me, it was publishing ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’
This, the 11th book in the Clearwater Mystery series, not only ties up loose ends, and takes the reader on an epic journey, it rounds off the story of Andrej (Fecker), one of my favourite characters. If you start with the prequel, ‘Banyak & Fecks’, and read all 11 books in order, you’ll see Fecker’s journey in full. This is also the longest book at 150,000 words, is partly written in diary (letter) form, which is a form I love, contains a map, and takes us to places I have visited in Europe.

Did I reach an important milestone in my author career in 2021?

I finished the Clearwater Mysteries series…. Except I didn’t. I carried the world and characters, backstories on into the Larkspur Mysteries. I also wrote from the perspective of a deaf character for the first time. A challenge to write and sometimes to read, but, for me, a first.

My favourite memory of the year (non-author related)

Christmas Day with my logical family, watching my husband open a present that looked like a bookmark, but turned out to be a token for a PADI diving course he wants to take. Oh, and my godson passed his grade one piano.

Anybody special you would like to thank for their support/help this year.

Plenty. My readers, everyone who leaves positive feedback and reviews, those who nominated me in 10 Goodreads Awards categories, my husband for looking after me and making me laugh every day, Jenine for her PA work and feeding us, my proofreaders, Anne and Maryann, the guys at Other Worlds Ink for their layout services, and my characters for their inspiration.

Do you have an author goal for 2022?

Only to continue to entertain by writing the best stories I can, and presenting them professionally, making each one better, and exploring new ideas.

And now, I’ll hand you over to my author friends…

Matt ConverseHi Matt, tell me about your 2021 highlight as a writer.

  It was the release of my first m/m sci-fi thriller 99 Days. Previously my releases were all m/m romance, horror or thriller, so I was stepping outside of my box. The reviews and reception have been better than I even hoped. I am currently writing the sequel, 99 Days Later.

Do you feel you reached an important milestone in your author career in 2021?

 Yes, I think crossing over into a different genre was a big achievement for me.

What is your favourite memory from this year?

Being able to see a few of my friends in person for the first time in a long time. It was great to just hang out and relax.

Anybody special you would like to thank for their support/help this year.

Definitely, my Mom is my biggest supporter, but I give thanks to every single person who has read any of my books. I appreciate it.

Do you have an author goal for 2022?

Just to keep writing and doing what I love. I will reach further out of my comfort box with my first non-LGBTQ release on February 5th with The Four Corners of Horror, an anthology of short stories.

Leather Head Unmasked

Published October 28, 2021

#mm #horror #thriller #suspense

Gable needs a getaway with best friend Shawn, while Andrés and Tyler take a trip to the West Coast. Granger and his younger boyfriend Liam head to Palm Springs and stay at a gay resort known to be the wildest in town. Fate draws all of them together for a climactic weekend in Palm Springs. For some, it is the wild weekend they needed. For others, things turn so dark they wonder if they will get out alive.


Find Matt here:

Amazon profile: https://www.amazon.com/Matt-Converse/e/B00TKCCVWY/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MattConverse1 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/matt.converse.39  

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13495845.Matt_Converse 

Leather Head Unmasked universal link https://smarturl.it/Leatherhead-Unmasked 

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Fearne Hill

Welcome Fearne, tell me about your 2021 highlight as a writer.

The first book in my Rossingley series, To Hold A Hidden Pearl, was nominated in 5 categories of the Goodreads M/M Romance group awards and also received an Honourable Mention in the contemporary gay romance section of the Rainbow Awards

Do you feel you reached an important milestone in your author career in 2021?

 Yes! I had four full-length romance novels published by an indie publishing company, with great feedback. And I’ve learnt an enormous amount about the whole writing process.

Anybody special you would like to thank for their support/help this year.

My wonderful editor, Elizabetta, at NineStar Press for her patience, support and kindness.

Do you have an author goal for 2022?

Yes. I have two self -pub books coming out in March and June, and another later in the year.

 

To Melt A Frozen Heart (Rossingley #3.5)

Published 14th December 2021

#contemporary #holidaynovella #mmromance #olderMC’s #british

Our only regrets are the chances we didn’t take.
Bah, humbug.
Freddie Duchamps-Avery has only one desire this Christmas: to ask his beloved Reuben to
marry him. However, with his needy father moping around, finding the perfect, romantic
moment to propose is proving tricky.
The Rt Hon. Charles Duchamps-Avery is a successful politician, a hopeless father, and a miserable divorcé. Facing the prospect of Christmas alone in London, he accepts his son Freddie’s generous invitation to join the gang at Rossingley. Yet, being surrounded by happy
couples only serves to remind of his past mistakes and a looming, lonely old age.
If only a handsome, enigmatic stranger would appear and distract him….

Social media links:
https://www.facebook.com/fearne.hill.50/

Facebook Group: Fearne Hill’s House

https://www.instagram.com/fearnehill_author

https://twitter.com/FearneHill

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Glenn Quigley

Hello Glenn, tell me about your 2021 highlight as a writer

In March I released WE CRY THE SEA, the third book in my Moth and Moon series. I never thought I’d see the day when I had a trilogy on the shelves, so that really meant a lot to me.

Do you feel you reached an important milestone in your author career in 2021?

I was a Rainbow Award runner-up in the category of Best Gay Book this year which was a huge surprise. It showed me that I must be doing something right!

What is your favourite memory from this year?

I got to walk around a lighthouse on Rathlin Island, which was great.

Anybody special you would like to thank for their support/help this year

My partner Mark, as always, for his love and support. Also, my brilliant beta readers ­- Tony, Christian, and Alan.

Do you have an author goal for 2022?

I have a new book and short story coming out next year. I would love to publish a collection of short stories so fingers crossed for that!

 

WE CRY THE SEA

Published 15 March 2021

#historicalfantasy #pirates #gay #bear #establishedcouple

After the explosive events of The Lion Lies Waiting, life has returned to normal for burly fisherman Robin Shipp. That is until the innkeeper of the ancient Moth & Moon approaches him with a surprising proposal, and an unexpected arrival brings some shocking news that sends Robin on a perilous journey alone.

While he’s away, his lover, Edwin, anxiously prepares for the birth of his first child with his friend, Iris. Her wife, Lady Eva, must travel to Blackrabbit Island for a showdown over the future of the family business. Meanwhile, Duncan nurses an injured man back to health but as the two grow close, the island’s new schoolmaster makes his amorous intentions clear.

Robin’s search for answers to the questions that have haunted his entire life will take him away from everyone he knows, across a dangerous ocean, and into the very heart of a floating pirate stronghold. Pushed to his limits, Robin’s one last chance at finding the truth will cost him more than he ever imagined.

Social media links
WEB            https://www.glennquigley.com

TWITTER    https://twitter.com/glennquigley

FACEBOOK https://www.facebook.com/glennquigleyauthor

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Ally Lester

 

Nice to welcome you back Ally, tell me about your 2021 highlight as a writer

At the beginning of the year, I decided I’d write a trilogy with three months between each fifty thousand word book. I am nearly there! I’ve had to extend the deadline for the final one because of various #LifeThings that tripped me up, but I’m so pleased to be on track to achieving this!

Do you feel you reached an important milestone in your author career in 2021?

Yes, I do. I’ve released four short stories, a novella and two books. That’s pretty good going! I feel like I have a bit more of a grip on what I’m doing these days…back when I began in 2017 I felt like I was flailing around only just keeping my head above water.

What is your favourite memory from this year? Non-author related

Oh! We took the kids to the Swannery at Abbotsbury on the South Coast of England in the summer. Littlest, who is a twelve-year-old wheelchair user with pretty complex issues, got to feed the swans. It was extremely cool. We also took my Mama, another wheelchair user. We sat in the sun and had a picnic and it was so simple and so lovely to spend time together as a family in the midst of all the pandemic stress.

Anybody special you would like to thank for their support/help this year

A HUGE list! Mr AL, who is Team Amazon Ads, Nell Iris and Ofelia Grand who I often write with first thing in the morning, and Jude Lucens, Elin Gregory and Lillian Francis, the mods from Quiltbag Historicals, who all put up with me moaning about writing and life, and offer support!

Do you have an author goal for 2022? Or maybe an event planned that you are working towards?

I want to write more Celtic Myth short stories this year. And I’ve got a couple of stand-alone books in the works. I’m finding the trilogy thing quite stressful, so I’m giving myself a break from them this year.

 The Quid Pro Quo

Publish date: 20th November 2021

#Historical #Transgender #Gay #Mystery #Paranormal

Village nurse Walter Kennett is content with his makeshift found-family in tiny Bradfield. However one midsummer morning a body is found floating in the village duck pond, dead by magical means.

Detective Simon Frost arrives in Bradfield to investigate an inexplicable murder. The evidence seems to point to Lucille Hall-Bridges, who lives with doctor Sylvia Marks and nurse Walter Kennett at Courtfield House. Simon isn’t happy—he doesn’t believe Lucy is a murderer but he’s sure the three of them are hiding something. In the meantime, the draw he feels toward Walter takes him by surprise.

Walter is in a dilemma, concealing Sylvia and Lucy’s relationship and not knowing how much to tell Frost about the paranormal possibilities of the murder. He isn’t interested in going to bed with anyone—he’s got a complicated life and has to know someone really well before he falls between the sheets. He’s taken aback by his own attraction to Detective Frost and angry when Frost appears to twist the spark between them to something transactional in nature.

Will Walter be satisfied to stay on the periphery of Lucy and Sylvia’s love affair, a welcome friend but never quite included? Or is it time for him to strike out and embark on a relationship of his own?

Social media links:

Free story with my newsletter: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/v6xhdi5d19

Facebook group (monthly giveaways, irregular moaning about deadlines and life, a drop-in for other authors to pimp their books once a week): https://facebook.com/groups/LesterTowers

Website: https://allester.co.uk

Twitter (chatter): https://twitter.com/CogentHippo

Instagram: https://instagram.com/CogentHippo


Thank you, everyone, for your contributions and thank you for reading.
If you missed yesterday’s post, my 2021 in more detail, you can find it here. http://jacksonmarsh.com/a-year-as-an-indie-author-2021/

An Interview With Dalston Blaze

An Interview With Dalston Blaze

On this Saturday’s blog, I am interviewing Dalston Blaze, one of the characters from the new Larkspur Mystery series. Dalston appears in ‘Guardians of the Poor’, ‘Keepers of the Past’, and will be playing a major role in the third instalment, ‘Agents of the Truth.’


The year is 1890, the place, Larkspur Academy, Cornwall.

 Hello, Mr Blaze. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Maybe I can start with some basic questions. Could you tell me your full name and if you have a nickname?

Morning. Yeah, me full name’s Dalston Blaze, and that’s it.

That’s unusual.

It is. But it ain’t my real name. According to His Lordship, my real name is John Andrew Harmer. Least, that’s what I was registered as when I was born. When I was nine months old, me parents died in a fire. I was the only one rescued, but no-one knew who I was, ‘cos I was taken straight to the Hackney spike and left there as an unknown. They put me in the book as ‘The baby from the Dalston blaze’, and that stuck as my name. Dalston’s a place in Hackney, see? As for a nickname… I don’t really have one. Jimmy Wright sometimes calls me Blazey, ‘cos we went through a place with that name on a train once. Joe calls me [here, Dalston makes a sign] but that’s my sign name, so you don’t say it aloud.

What does it mean?

It’s rude.

I think we can handle a little rudeness. I assume it’s not meant in a bad way.

No, it ain’t. And if you must know, [the sign again] means a good f**k.

I see. Moving on… Maybe you can tell me more about your parents.

I never met them. Well, I suppose I did, but I don’t remember them, ‘cos I was only a few months old. Mr Wright and Mr Fairbairn are looking into my case, ‘cos my dad owned a business in Dalston. He brought things into the country from Greece and Italy, they told me. Stored it at the store under the house, and did his business from there, but I don’t know much about it. When it went up in smoke, it were all insured, and Mr Fairbairn’s trying to get me the insurance money, but it was nineteen years ago. That’s the only connection I have with my parents.

No other family?

Only Joe, and maybe some of the men I’ve met at the academy, but they ain’t real family. Just feel like it, if you know what I mean.

I do. Now, you said you were taken to the workhouse — the spike. I understand you grew up there. Did you ever feel like running away?

The Hackney Workhouse

Most days, yeah. Thing is, though, where d’you go, and how d’you live? People think the workhouse is a bad place, and it is. Least, it can be. I was lucky, ‘cos the matron, Mrs Lee, she couldn’t have kids see, so she treated me like her own until I was five or six, then I had to go and live in the general population on the infants’ ward. She still kept an eye on me from then on, until I was eighteen, really. She wouldn’t let me be homed out, or sent to the ships, ‘cos I reckon she still thought of me as her own. So, I didn’t try and run away, ‘cos she’d have got in trouble, and so would I. Boys got whipped for going over [the wall] and I didn’t need to. I had it easier than most.

So, what smells do you associate with your childhood?

Piss mainly. They have tubs in the wards, see. Wards are big bedrooms for twenty or more. Well, they’re rooms with beds in, and at my spike, we slept two in a bed, with one tub to piss in during the night. The rooms stank of that and farts, then when I went to the older infants’ ward, up to sixteen, it stank of tobacco smoke, piss and farts. The men’s ward, from sixteen, was the same but with sweat too. The rock shed smelt of dust, the oakum shed of tar and old, wet rope. I don’t remember no smells from the food, ‘cos it didn’t smell of nothing, but there was a funny smell in the chapel on Sundays.

Let’s move on to now. Where are you now, and who do you live with?

Merevale Hall. The inspiration for Academy House

Right now, I share a room with Joe at Academy House. That’s on Lord Clearwater’s estate in Cornwall and it’s dead posh. ‘Cos of that, and ‘cos of his kindness, we look after the place; all of us. We’re there with Clem, who’s a local lad with a genius for business, so Fleet says, and there’s Frank. He’s a Greek-born nutter from the East End what got done for fiddling tax when he was fifteen or something. He’s twenty now, mad about sex, loyal as fuck and fancies me. But he ain’t having me. Then there’s Fleet, the nutter-genius who… Well, no-one really knows what Fleet does. He knows everything, lets us be ourselves, and eats scrambled eggs and porridge in the same bowl.

The academy ain’t a school, you understand. It’s a place where men who are… different and have something to offer but don’t have the chance… they get to come there if Lord Clearwater finds them and thinks they’ll do well. It’s not an easy place to describe, except we’re very lucky, and we appreciate the chance we’ve been given.

Did you always love to draw? Do you think there is a deeper reason that you have communicated through pictures?

Dalston’s drawing of Joe Tanner.

I don’t know where the drawing comes from, to be honest. I got in trouble for drawing on walls when I were little, so I suppose I always had it in me. Mrs Lee encouraged it, and I were grateful for that, ‘cos there’s nothing else to do in the spike except school, work and get bored. Me and Joe, when we met… We was eleven… twelve… We used pictures to talk to each other ‘cos he’s deaf. And ‘cos of that, I got better, and he ain’t bad, and we also had signs, which is how we talk now, mainly, ‘cos the drawings got us into trouble. I don’t know what you mean about a deeper reason, though. I just like it, I’m good at it, and Lord Clearwater says I can make money from it, so that’s alright by me.

Let’s get personal. When did you have your first kiss, and who was it with?

I was seventeen. It was Joe. Ain’t kissed no-one else.

What have been the most important events of your life?

Not dying in a fire. Meeting Joe. Getting pulled from prison by Mr Hawkins and His Lordship. Coming to the academy.

I think I know the answer to this, but who is the most important person in your life?

Joe Tanner

This annoying deaf bloke called Joe Tanner. [He gives me a cheeky wink; Joe is clearly more to him than just a ‘deaf bloke.’] You know, Joe can be difficult. He gets frustrated ‘cos people can’t communicate with him much, and he goes off in huffs and stuff, folds his arms when he refuses to talk, ‘cos without his hands, he can’t speak, but you have to understand what it’s like for him. He ain’t heard nothing since he was born, so he doesn’t even know what words sound like. He says a few, and Fleet’s been training him, but he talks with his hands and his face, and it’s a face that melts me heart each time I see it. He’s what Frank calls a handsome fucker, and he’s right. Dead sexy, kind, funny, he’s got a naughty sense of humour, and talks about people right in front of their faces, ‘cos they don’t know the sign language. We have to watch that a bit now, ‘cos Fleet and the lads have learnt some, and Mr Wright. So, Joe’s my man and he always will be. Some get all fancy and call it love; I just call it Joe.

Do you trust anyone to protect you? Who and why?

Joe, ‘cos he’s a hero. Jimmy Wright ‘cos he’s clever and strong. Lord Clearwater, ‘cos he’s like that. Fleet too, and Clem and Frank. We’ve become mates, see, and good ones. Already got into a couple of scrapes together, and all come out if it like… well, like brothers a bit, I suppose. Whatever. I feel safe and protected at the academy, but I always felt safe with Mrs Lee at the spike when she was there. So, her as well.

What makes you laugh?

Joe when he’s being naughty. Fleet and his different coloured suits and strange hats. Er… Jimmy, ‘cos he’s so dry at times. And Frank, because he’s such a malaka. That’s his word for wanker. He gets his signs wrong when he’s trying to talk to Joe, bless, and that can be funny. We laugh a lot at the House, but we also fight a bit sometimes, ‘cos you do when you’re in a family, don’t you? Least, that’s what they tell me, ‘cos I’ve never had one ’til now.

I should let you go. I know Fleet has a rule about not being late for meals.

Yeah. It’s the only thing he insists on, ‘cos it’s a time we’re all together and can talk about stuff.

But before you go. One thing I like to ask everyone is what do you have in your pockets right now?

Blimey. Er… Handkerchief, couple of pencil stubs… What’s that? Fuck, I thought I’d lost that. In me jacket I got this sketch of Joe. I always carry that. Me wallet, ‘cos I got some money now… Three quid, six shillings and thruppence ha’penny. A watch Fleet gave me. Think that’s it.

Excellent. Well, thank you Mr Blaze. I’ll let you get on with whatever you are doing these days.

Right now, I’m working on a case with Jimmy Wright, and me and Joe and him, we’re off to London soon. I can’t tell you nothing about that, except, we got to be back by the end of the month ‘cos Lord Clearwater’s giving a massive costume party. The Queen’s grandson’s going to be there, so we got to be posh, and they’re going to show everyone the drawings I did of Larkspur Hall. I could make a lot of money from it, so it’s got to go without a hitch.


You can find out whether the masked ball goes according to plan when ‘Agents of the Truth’ is released in early 2022. Follow its progress through my Work In Progress blog every Wednesday. There will be no spoilers.

If you’ve not met Dalson Blaze, Joe and the others, then the place to start is Guardians of the Poor, the first Larkspur Mystery.

An interview with Mrs Norwood

Mrs Frances Sarah Norwood first appears in The Clearwater Mysteries in chapter four of book four, Fallen Splendour. She and her husband, Isaac, are Clearwater’s retainers and have come to take care of the house while Archer and his men go to Larkspur for Christmas.

The second stranger swept into the room, and for a reason he couldn’t place, James was relieved. Mrs Norwood, only slightly younger than her husband, bustled in the manner of Mrs Baker, and, like her husband, exuded confidence, not only with how she greeted James but how she took to her surroundings.

‘We have met before,’ she announced with a smile, studying his face as she gave a curtsy.

James’ confusion deepened, but he half-bowed to her before saying, ‘We have?’

‘I thought it must be you when His Lordship said you were South Riverside,’ she continued, passing by and heading towards the kitchen. ‘I’ll pop on a pan and warm a pot.’

Later in the series, Mrs Norwood divorces her husband because he has been unfaithful, and she gains the position of permanent housekeeper at Clearwater House. She is one of the few major female characters in the series and is still with us when we reach the first of The Larkspur Mysteries in 1890. By then, things have changed at both houses. James and Silas are working as private investigators based in London, while Thomas and Archer spend more time at Larkspur. Mrs Norwood lives at the London house with ‘her boys’, as she calls them and their new assistant, Duncan Fairbairn.

Dalston Blaze’s portrait of Mrs Norwood

Dalston Blaze, the talented young artist we meet in Guardians of the Poor drew Mrs Norwood as a gift for looking after him.


Today, sitting in the servants’ hall at Clearwater House with a pot of tea, I am asking the housekeeper a few questions.

Mrs Norwood, thank you for taking the time to talk with me. May I start by asking what exactly is expected of a housekeeper?

You may, and the answer is quite simple. I keep house. This involves looking after the day-to-day work of the female servants, balancing the household account books, meeting with the mistress to discuss meals, and ordering all supplies.

And is that what you do at Clearwater House?

No, not entirely. For a start, there is no mistress, so I deal directly with His Lordship when he is in town, otherwise, I run the house for the boys. I do the ordering and the cooking, except on Sunday mornings when they fend for themselves. When Lord Clearwater is here, he usually brings Mrs Roberts, his cook, and Mr Blackwood, my assistant. Together, Jasper and I clean the house and keep it tidy, while either Mr Nancarrow or Mr Holt act as the butler. It depends on who His Lordship has with him. He has a large and diverse staff, and we are all happy to do whatever is needed. But, most of the time these days, it is just me and the boys, and the house runs very much as a normal house would, except it is bigger.

How did you come to be Lord Clearwater’s housekeeper?

It came about thanks to Mr Payne, who was then His Lordship’s young butler. My ex-husband and I had been retainers under the previous viscount, and I have known His current Lordship since he was quite young. When the family was away, we would live downstairs at the house, partly to guard it, mainly to ensure it was kept running and clean. At this time, we lived in rented rooms not far away in South Riverside. My husband worked in publishing as an editor. I had a part-time position as a schoolmistress, and I also helped with Sunday school, which I still do.

After the business with Mr Norwood, when the divorce proceedings had begun, Mr Payne suggested it wouldn’t be proper for me to return to our lodgings, and thus, let me stay on at Clearwater House until things settled down. A little while later, he offered me the position of housekeeper, and His Lordship agreed because Mrs Baker was required at Larkspur, leaving the London House unkept. I have been running it ever since.

You and James Wright had met before you came to the house, is that correct?

Ah yes, little Jimmy Wright, the brightest boy in his class. I taught him when he was young, and he was a good student. A little dreamy at times, often suffered from bullying, I discovered later, poor thing, but good at his reading and writing. He used to be a chubby boy, a cherub with golden hair and near-invisible eyelashes. (She smiles fondly.) And now look at him. Gallivanting about the countryside, chasing down assassins and poisoners, rescuing young men from all manner of trouble… And now he wears a moustache. How they grow up.

A more traditional Victorian housekeeper

You assist with the detective agency, I understand?

I look after ‘those boys,’ certainly. If I didn’t run around after them, I hate to think what a mess they would be in. I know Jimmy… Mr Wright is now nearing thirty years, and Mr Hawkins is over twenty-one, but honestly… Newspapers left lying around, the dishes poorly washed, towels on the bathroom floor… I even found Mr Wright’s revolver left casually on the servants’ hall table one morning and was forced to tell him off. But, I love the work, of course, as I have grown to love them, for all their faults. As for the detecting work, I have been known to solve a clue or a riddle now and then. Sometimes, you see, only a women’s brain will do.

Yes, you have something of a reputation for being a New Woman, as the newspapers would have it. May I remind you of the time Silas first saw you driving His Lordship’s trap?

‘Mrs Norwood?’ He greeted her, unsure whether to shake her hand or hand over his luggage. ‘What are you doing driving the trap?’

‘Hello, Mr Hawkins,’ the retainer replied, reaching for his portmanteau. ‘We got your telegram late yesterday evening, but Mr Norwood has to be at the publishing house today, so I thought I would come to collect you.’

‘But, you’re a…’

She had taken his bag and swung it into the back of the trap before he finished stating the obvious.

‘Yes, I know,’ she said. ‘And a woman who sees no reason why a lady can’t drive. Why, if I wasn’t teaching most other days, I might even take up being a cabbie. It’s quite thrilling.

Ah yes, the driving. Well, I am not the first woman to drive, and I shan’t be the last. Thanks to changes in archaic laws, women can be more emancipated these days, and so they should be. Last year, I taught myself to type on a new typewriting machine, and I am currently studying Pitman’s shorthand. It’s not such a far leap from there to Morse code, and I am nearly fluent in that too. These are small things. I intend to see what I can do about getting women the vote, but I do have to be careful not to upset His Lordship. Having said that, he, too, is in favour of women being given the vote, and I mean all women, not just a chosen few.

The servants’ hall

Does that mean you find the housework less of a challenge, or perhaps, dare I ask it, too much like ‘women’s work’?

Good Lord, no! Running the house, cooking and cleaning for the boys is a joy. As you know, Mr Norwood awarded me no children, so I can’t but help see the young gentlemen as, well, nephews at least. Lord Clearwater insists on a family-like atmosphere at his properties, even among the staff, and I suppose someone has to be the mother to the man now his own has passed away. I mean, he sees Jimmy Wright like a brother, Mr Andrej too, and we know how he is with Mr Hawkins, so it’s only right that I care for the gentlemen, but that doesn’t prevent me from bettering myself with what you might call more unusual pursuits. Morse code, Pitman, driving, and so on.

You alluded there to Mr Hawkins and His Lordship, and I think you will know what I mean when I ask how you feel about their relationship.

And what exactly do you ask about it?

Oh, well, how you feel knowing… knowing what it is.

Sir, of course, I know what it is, how it is, and why it is. A housekeeper should know everything that happens in her house, and I do. However, I am discreet, and His Lordship’s personal business is none of yours. Would you like more tea?

[Mrs Norwood is very protective about all of her ‘boys’, Lord Clearwater included.]

Joseph Tanner of the Larkspur Academy

One last thing, Mrs Norwood. What do you think about Lord Clearwater’s new endeavour, the Larkspur Academy?

I am thrilled, of course. His Lordship is a philanthropist, and this latest venture is a wonderful idea. I don’t have much to do with it, being in London for most of the time, but some of the young men the academy seeks to help have visited here. In fact, most of them, including Professor Fleet, came from London and have spent a night or two here before travelling to Cornwall. Recently, Mr Blaze was a guest after being rescued, and it is he who made this wonderful portrait which now hangs on the wall there. His deaf friend, Mr Tanner, also stayed for a couple of nights. So, I do at least get to meet some of the talented and unusual men before they move down to Larkspur to better their lives and chances.

Understanding that he cannot help everyone, Lord Clearwater strives to better the lives of the underprivileged and those who have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. To offer them—even if only a few—the chance to discover themselves, develop their hidden talents and make a life for themselves is a wonderful thing to do, and I look forward to visiting Larkspur and seeing the house for myself. I have been to the Hall, of course, I was there last Christmas, but I would like to see the academy in full swing. I have heard it is quite a unique place, a little like Clearwater House, and I look forward to the day it takes young women under its roof as well as young men.

Thank you for taking the time, Mrs Norwood. Would you have a quote for our readers? Something that sums up how you feel about the world under Queen Victoria and your part in it?

I do, actually, although it is by no great author or person of learning, but my own thought.

If a woman follows the crowd, she will see only what the crowd sees. A woman who walks alone, however, will find places no one has seen before.

Do We Judge a Book by its Cover? Part 2

Do We Judge a Book by its Cover? Part 2

Today, we have the second in our series ‘Do we judge a book by its cover?’ Here, I’ve invited some of my favourite authors to chat about their covers and what’s behind them. The reason for this is because I have a new Clearwater Mystery coming out during the coming week, and Andjela K has once again done me proud with the cover. This is the first Clearwater with no person on the cover, and there’s a reason for that. Being the 10th in the series, and the ending of one thing and the start of another, and concerns more than one main character. In fact, the story follows three paths, all leading to the same overarching end in one story, but the question was, who to put on the front?

As you can see, I didn’t put anyone on it (apart from a train driver, if you look closely, but he’s not in the story). What I asked for was a representation of the main ‘props’ in the story. In this case, you can see Rasnov Castle in Transylvania, the Orient Express as we now call it, and a piece of music by Bach, one of the preludes referred to in the mystery. I hope the cover also suggests a journey, snow, urgency and the period.

So, that’s what we’re talking about today; book covers. I’ll now hand you over to my guests.

 


 

A Little Morbid

by Olivier Bosman

Book 3 in The John Billings Mysteries

Published February 9, 2021

(Victorian mystery, the occult, Egypt, Treasure Hunt, LGBT)

 

The year is 1895.
An ancient manuscript claiming to hold the secrets of God’s creation;
A cunning old woman trying to make sense of it;
A deluded psychopath intent on stealing it away from her.
Following on from the events in “A Glimpse of Heaven”, Billings and Trotter travel to Egypt in search of the elusive “Codex of Solomon”, where things suddenly start becoming… a little morbid.

 

 Why did you choose this cover for your book?

The posture and clothes of the man in the picture give him an air of mystery.

Do you design it yourself or pass over to a specialist designer? What’s your process?

This was a premade cover, but I asked the designer to add an Egyptian background.

Are you making a statement with the cover?

Yes. It’s clear that this is a Victorian mystery set in Egypt.

Do you ask others for feedback or go with your gut feeling?

I go with gut feeling. If I ask for feedback I get contrasting opinions and that only confuses matters.

Do you usually do a cover reveal event?

No. I just announce my new book on Facebook and my newsletter without too much fanfare. It’s important to have a cover well before release date so you can do some marketing.

Who would be your ultimate person to provide a quote or appraisal for the cover of one of your future books?

I haven’t done that yet, nor have I thought about it. I’m not even sure who the leading author in my particular genre is. I guess it’s because my writing falls between genres.

Find Olivier at his website https://www.olivierbosman.com/
Universal book link https://books2read.com/alittlemorbid
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/olivier.bosman.author

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99 Days

by Matt Converse

Published May 27, 2021

 

(M/M, Sci-fi, romance, thriller, novella)

 

 

Life as we know it will never be the same. Flying saucers are spotted all over the world. But after one crashes into the San Francisco Bay, they disappear. Not far from the crash, Mitch rents his spare room to Claytone and quickly develops a crush. But what he doesn’t know is that Claytone will soon turn his world— and heart, upside down. Claytone’s final revelation will reach even further; it will change life on planet Earth— forever.

 

Why did you chose this cover for your book?

I looked through many pics at the site my publisher offers to choose from and this one grabbed my attention the second I saw it.

Do you design it yourself or pass over to a specialist designer? What’s your process?

I pick out the picture and font of the lettering I want, then my publisher’s cover designer works her magic.

Are you making a statement with the cover?

I certainly hope so. I think it fits the contents of the book very well.

Do you ask others for feedback or go with your gut feeling?

I go with my gut feeling.

Do you usually do a cover reveal event?

I do a cover reveal of my two main social media platforms, Facebook and twitter.

Who would be your ultimate person to provide a quote or appraisal for the cover of one of your future books?

This is my only m/m sci-fi, most of mine are LGBT horror and thriller, so I wouldn’t mind a quote from Stephen King!

Amazon profile: https://www.amazon.com/Matt-Converse/e/B00TKCCVWY/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/matt.converse.39

Universal buy link: https://smarturl.it/99Days

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Silly Little Love Songs

by Frank W. Butterfield

The Latest book in The Romantical Adventures of Whit & Eddie Series

Published May 18, 2021

(Mystery, Hitman, Elders, Redemption, Billionaires)

 

It’s a mystery about a mystery. Sal Desimone was executed in 1948 for the murder of Pete Rudd. But did Sal really do it? Or was he covering for someone else? Whit and Eddie are digging into the past to find out the truth. But will doing so get them or the people they love killed?

 

Tell us why you chose this cover for your book?

This is the ninth book in the series, and it follows the template.

Do you design it yourself or pass over to a specialist designer? What’s your process?

I designed this myself with help from designer Ron Perry. Since I publish rapidly across a number of series, Ron helps me develop a template I can then adapt when new titles are ready.

Are you making a statement with the cover?

Yes! Just prior to the publication of this book, I revised the template and updated all the covers. There are two MCs and I previously only had one (Whit) on the cover. I added the other MC (Eddie) to the template and really like the results!

Do you ask others for feedback or go with your gut feeling?

I ask my loyal readers for their feedback but primarily follow my inner feeling about whether it’s right or not.

Follow Frank on his website https://frankwbutterfield.com

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/FrankWButterfield/

Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09581QSW9

 


I’d like to thank everyone for contributing to today’s post. Make sure you click through and read more about these books – you’re not going to be disappointed!

Have a great week, Jackson

I Married An Author

This week we have a completely different blog post for Jackson’s fans. In fact, Jackson has had nothing to do with it at all! Instead it is me, Jenine, Jackson’s PA, and I thought it would be fun to learn a few secrets about Jackson and what it is like to be married to an author. So let me introduce you to the person who has all the inside info… Neil Gosling, husband of James Collins aka Jackson Marsh.

Hello Neil, it’s great to have you with us today. Firstly, let’s go back to the beginning…how and when did you meet James?

We met in a night club called Revenge in Brighton back in 1997, two nights before Princess Diana died. I’m crap at chat up lines, so I said to James, “I really want to talk to you, but I have no chat up lines”. He liked my honesty, and the rest is history. We decided to take things slowly….so I moved in three days later.

Neil and James in Brighton, UK 1998

Do you remember the first time James told you he wanted to write and publish a book, what was your reaction?

He had always been trying to write books. Even back when I met him, he was putting on a musical, so I have always known him to either write words for books or musicals. Actually, we have more personal time together now he is a writer than ever before.

What is your role in James’ professional life?

I take care of the house!

Being British, it is my job is to make him endless cups of tea, make sure his dinner is on the table on time and generally take care of the house. Joking aside, I have been involved in just about all his books. We chat endlessly about what may or may not happen in a story line. Sometimes I am used as a sounding board as he outlines problems, and by the time he has finished, he has sorted out his problem, and away he goes again. I also get to read his books after the first or second draft. This is so I can tell him if the story works, or if there is too much repetition.

Does he have any writer quirks?

Lol. Yes, he does, it’s quite scary. His head spins around three times and he spits at the nearest person available as he tells them to go and wash their socks in hell. Besides that, no, he is quite ‘normal’, whatever that means.

Any signs that say, “Go away, I’m busy.”

Yes, “Go away, I’m busy!” Or “Can it wait until later?” Actually, I’m joking, he’s pretty good, and most of the time will stop what he is doing. I know when he is busy, so tend to try and leave him to carry on working, although I don’t think he will agree with that statement.

Do you get to contribute to the plots?

Hey, I think I’ve lost the plot already, what was that? Yes, I do, or at least I think I do. We chat endlessly about plots, although as I have said, I am regularly used as a sounding board. Quite often he agrees with me and then its nice to read something I have helped him with.

Does he take constructive criticism well?

Yes, he is good at taking criticism, he doesn’t have to use it, but he is always interested to hear people’s views on his books. It makes him grow as a writer.

What is it like to read the sex scenes in his novels?

Hahahaha, well, what can I say about that? I love them, in fact, I keep trying to get him to write more sex scenes, but he is more interested in the rest of the story line. Sex is part of life for most of us, so it would be daft to miss out sex scenes, and he writes it almost poetically, which is part of the romance.

Has he dedicated any books to you?

Yes, one of his horror stories called ‘Lonely House.’ It feels nice, I mean, how many people have had a book dedicated to them? It was really sweet, and I loved it. He has also written a song for me called ‘Sleep On’ which he has played and was sung by beautifully Kinny Gardner in front of many audiences when he used to do cabaret shows. We have a recording of it on CD at home, and it still brings tears to my eyes when I hear it.  So yes, it all makes me feel rather special.

Your husband spends most of his days inside an imaginary world, do you ever get jealous?

What’s there to be jealous of? What is normal to the spider is chaos for the fly.

What is it like at the house when a deadline is approaching?

Its full of fast tapping as he works his magic on the keyboard at a frantic pace. It’s a bit like a horse ride, you start off with a slow canter, but by the end, it’s a full-on gallop. ‘My Fair Lady’ comes to mind here, ‘Come on Dover, move your bloomin’ ass!’ It’s not only the story line he has to finish, but also the cover of the book, the editing that needs to be sorted out, and then the publishing, and which part of the book he feels best to use for the blurb. And then there is a sigh, and once its all finished, its down to the pub!

The three of us celebrating as The Clearwater Inheritance is sent off for proofreading!

It was at that point that we came up with the idea for hijacking the blog this week 🙂

 

What is the biggest frustration of being married to a writer?

I’m going to go off script here. I work in a bar in the afternoons, and I really like it when he comes down to join me, especially if it is a slow day. I remember once messaging him to see if he wanted to come down. It had been a really, slow day. His answer soon came back. ‘I will try, but I am in the middle of crashing a train.’ Now, how many people do you know who get a text like that. Lol.

Also, sometimes he will wake up at say 2.30 in the morning, his head is full of ideas, so he gets up and starts typing. By the time it comes to the afternoon he is knackered.

When Jackson is full on researching and writing he must be exhausted after such an effort. How does he unwind after an intense writing session?

Ooh err, that’s a bit personal, go back to the sex scene question, and use your imagination. He normally sits down closes his eyes for a few seconds and then we either talk about it, or switch on the TV so he can try to take his mind off it.

You said that you usually prepare the dinner at home, what’s James’ favourite meal of yours?

Neil’s Easter Extravaganza Cake

Anything I make as it means he doesn’t have to (lol). Actually, his favourite meal is sausage, mash, peas and gravy. But in saying that, he loves it when I cook an Indian meal. And he loves my cakes. I was making one a week over the winter, but I had to stop as it certainly piled on the pounds.

What is it like to be married to someone who is in dreamland most of the time?

I love it, there is always something different to discuss, or to chat about. Life certainly isn’t boring. I’m in dreamland myself most days, which means we gel perfectly. ‘What was that, dear?’ ‘No idea, not a clue.’ And life goes on.

James is a great romance writer, what is the most romantic thing James has ever done?

Picture this, it was the year 1923 and a little girl from a small village in Italy found herself alone. Oh sorry, that’s someone else’s story. For my 40th birthday, we went to South America. Peru, Ecuador, including The Galapagos islands and Machu Picchu. On this particular day, while we were staying in the rainforest of Machu Picchu he told me a secret that he had been keeping from me. He had arranged a Shaman to marry us, well at least to bless our partnership later that evening. I was gob smacked, and that takes a lot. Later that day, we walked deeper into the rain forest with an interpreter and someone else who was using my camera to take the photos.

Being blessed in the rainforest, 2007

We met the Shaman and he did a big ceremony for just the two of us. It was quite funny in a way as we had to repeat words in Quechuan, which is the language of the Incas. We had to say it properly as well, and we found ourselves repeating the words over and over again until we got it right. It all turned out well in the end. Although I think I was married to a tree and James was married to a bush, but who knows, it was a very romantic time.

Tell me about a time you felt proud of your husband.

Toasting our wedding as we sailed to a remote bay for our Blessing and celebrations, Symi 2017

God, so many times I wouldn’t know where to begin. He has won many awards over the years, for his music, his books and even a couple of film scripts. But if I was going to pinpoint one day, then it would have to be the day we got married on Symi surrounded by friends and family.

 

If you could only pick one, which character of the Clearwater Family is most like you?

Billy. Although he isn’t in it as much as the others, he is cheeky, cunning and has a quick wit.

Which is your favourite book from the Clearwater Series?

Deviant Desire
Book 1 Clearwater Mysteries

Not being biased at all, I love them all. But if I have to choose one I would say the first one, Deviant Desire, as it sets everything up and we meet most of the main characters from the very beginning. But in saying that, I really did love Banyak and Fecks the prequel to the whole series.

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have any literary ambitions of your own? Have you ever thought about writing something together?

I did write a little bit in the book Symi 85600 under his real name, James Collins. This is about our first 5 years of living on a small Greek island. Plus, as a photographer, my photos were used in Village View another book about our lives in Greece.

The Symi Collection by James Collins

I have written under my own name and won an award for it back in 2007 or 8. But you can only find those stories in over 18 sites.

At the moment there is no plan for a joint effort, but I have thought a few times about writing a book, but like many others, I am too lazy. You need to be self-disciplined and dedicated, which Jackson Marsh/James Collins is.

What is the best thing about being married to a writer?

We respect what each other does like any other couple. Life is always interesting, and no one day is the same as the last. I also like it when we are sitting in the square close to our house, and every now and then you can see someone looking over and pointing at him. Then they come over and ask if it is really him. He smiles, answers them and they go away happy. People also come up to him with one or two of his books and ask him to autograph them, it’s like living with a superstar, but without the money.

Thank you so much Neil, loved your answers and I think that James/Jackson will be relieved to know that living and being married to you is pretty good!


Next week on the blog Jackson has invited some fellow M/M authors over to discuss their book cover choices and we will hear more about the the upcoming release of The Clearwater Inheritance.

In the meantime, on Monday, Jackson is also making a guest appearance over on A. L. Lester’s blog where he will be talking about writing gay fiction back in the 1890’s. You can find Ally’s website and blog here  

Hope you enjoyed the hijacking, have a good week everyone!

 

An Interview with Andrej: AKA, Fecker

Of all the characters in The Clearwater Mysteries, Andrej seems to be the readers’ favourite. I must admit, he is one of my favourite characters too, and yet he started out as someone entirely different. Today, instead of a formal interview with the character, I thought I would tell you more about him but ask him some questions along the way.

Andrej Borysko Yakiv Kolisnychenko

‘That is my name, and no-one can take that away from me.’

Andrej was born in a village called Serbka, in Ukraine, sometime between 1867 and 1869. It might have been a year earlier because he has never been told what year he was born. He knows it was at Easter, though, and when you read ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, you will learn a little more about his birth. His village is a real place, although I have never been there, and it is hard to find information about it online. There is a river called The Balai, and he grew up on its banks, the son of a farmer. His family was large, but most of his brothers and sisters were killed during ‘the troubles’, a fictional rebellion based on Russian invasions of the area and the internal and external wars that took place in the region over time.

Serbka Village, Odessa Oblast, Ukraine, 2014

One of the reasons Andrej is a favourite character is because he is something of an enigma. He has one of the deepest backstories of any character in the series (though the main seven all have detailed and complex histories), and yet, when I first envisioned him, he was nothing more than a sidekick.

Without giving too much away, here is how the character of Andrej developed.

Deviant Desire

When I set about writing what is now part one of a ten-part series (plus one prequel), it was a standalone love story between Silas Hawkins, a renter, and Viscount Clearwater (Archer). A classic, rags to riches story if you like. However, all main characters need a foil or a sidekick, and Silas’ was to be Andy, an Artful Dodger type character from the East End. As I wrote his first appearance, I realised that all I was doing was imitating Dodger, and what was the point of that? What would be more interesting? Knowing the Victorian East End was a melting pot of many nationalities, immigration and migrant workers, I thought, why not make Andy an immigrant? Perhaps a Russian… Or maybe, someone even more marginalised… A Ukrainian.

So, Andy became Andrej (the Ukrainian spelling), and he arrives in chapter one of Deviant Desire with a backstory and an existing relationship with Silas.

Andrej, how did you and Silas meet?
I was turning trick in alley because I need money, and this boy, he comes in for piss, and he not see me. Oi! I shout. Fuck off, is my place. Then boy sees that trick is going to stab Andrej, and he piss on man, and Andrej is saved. Then boy he run away, but Dolya, she tell me later that I must help this boy, so I go find him. He is near dead, so Andrej take him home. We are soon friends.

Andrej is quite capable of speaking fluent English but chooses not to. English uses too many words, so why bother? He uses Russian and Ukrainian village words in his speech too. Hence ‘Dolya’ is fate, and he never says yes or no, only Da and Nyet.

Twisted Tracks

I’d fallen for Andrej by the time I realised that Deviant Desire could not be a standalone novel and decided to keep him in the series. He doesn’t play a large part in Twisted Tracks, but he proves his loyalty to his friends, and that theme is the backbone of the entire series. Andrej personifies that theme more than any other character. In Twisted Tracks, he also comes to realise that Archer is ‘Geroy’, his village word for a noble man, as opposed to a nobleman. Andrej has nicknames for everyone and uses them because they remind him of a person’s character. Silas is Banyak, which has various meanings, but mainly, it is an idiot or cooking pot that contains all manner of things. James is Tato, which means ‘daddy’, Thomas is Bolshoydick, which means ‘large penis’ (because, apparently, it is true), and Jasper is Pianino because it means ‘little piano.’

Andrej, why does Silas call you ‘Fecker’?
Is easy. Is because I am handsome fecker. He says this with his Irish accent once, and again, and in the end, the name sticks. I not mind. I am good at fecking, but I not feck lady yet. Not until I am married.

Unspeakable Acts

Andrej appears little in book three, which is mainly led by Silas and James, but he is there, getting on with things and keeping an eye on his best friend, Banyak. After book three, I decided that we needed to know more about Andrej. At that time, I wasn’t too sure about Andrej’s past, so I asked him some more questions as I wrote book four.

Serbka, Ukraine

Andrej, what happened to your family? 

Is complicated and sad. My father (I not like him much), he was farmer and militia man. Dead. My first mother, she die when she gives us my sister, Daria. Daria, she and my second mother they disappear in the troubles. I don’t know if they are alive. My other sister, Alina, she was killed by Russians, also my brother Vladyslav. He die in war when he was near thirty. This leave only Danylo, and he go to war, and I not hear about him before I leave Ukraine. Now, I have Danylo back.

Fallen Splendour

Andrej’s backstory comes out during Fallen Splendour. At least, some of it does. Archer calls on him to assist in an investigation. While on their way and sleeping rough during a blizzard, he tells Archer some of his history. Later in the story, he proves himself more than loyal and determined to fight for his life. This involves cutting off three of his fingers. That’s the kind of man he is. During this time, he quietly falls in love with a kitchen maid, Lucy Roberts, and that relationship bubbles away in the background all through the series.

Inspiration for the drawing of Andrej (below).

So, Andrej, are you straight?
What is this ‘straight?’ I am man from Ukraine. I am strong. I farm, I ride horses, I learn tricks on horses in Circus with Ivo Zoran, and I am Master of Larkspur Horse. What is ‘straight? [I explain our modern terminology, and Andrej is mildly outraged.] What? You think I am queer like Banyak and others? Nyet. I have big, Ukraine koloty, and I need money, so I use this to make money, so I eat. Men, they like Andrej’s koloty, but I no like what I must do to make money, but I do it. This not make me queer. Don’t say that. You want me to get angry?

At six-foot-four and built like the proverbial brick shithouse, no-one wants to make Andrej angry, so we move on.

Bitter Bloodline

In book five, we explore Andrej’s relationship with James as they are tasked with rescuing the son of a famous writer. Again, Andrej proves himself loyal, straightforward, strong, and an expert horseman, and, by now in the series, we are also getting used to him injecting some humour.

Artful Deception

In book six, Andrej is again a background character, although a pillar; without him, the deception would not be possible. He does as he is asked, risks his life and suffers for it, but he is there, propping up the others in his quiet, steadfast way. This strength of character must come from somewhere, and I asked him where.

I don’t know. From the Balai, from the way Vlad he teach me the sword, and the way my father he teach me the horse and plough. I know what is right and what is wrong from early years, and when I see my village dying, and Blumkin and the others, they want to run and give themselves to Russians, I say, Nyet. This is not Andrej. I am thirteen years, I think. Maybe fourteen, I don’t know, but I do know I not stay and be killed by Russian. So, I walk.

I go to England which is richest country in world, and there, I make money to come home and look for sister and Danylo. Is long walk. Many troubles, but I meet kind mad with no eyes, and he gives me Banyak the horse, and she teach me loyalnist. [Loyalty.] Then, I fuck men for money and I find ship, and Makarov, and Captain, they help me and they teach me there are good people in world, and I should be one. All that, I think, all that make me how I am.

Home From Nowhere & One Of A Pair

Andrej is in books seven and eight, though they step away from what we are used to in the Clearwater world, and so, Andrej is in the backseat, rather than driving. Other characters get the leads, and we are introduced to two more main players, Jasper and Billy, the nephews of what is fast becoming the Clearwater family.

Andrej is featured on the cover of Fallen Splendour riding a charger.

Andrej, do you think of Clearwater and your friends as a family?
Da. We are friends, for sure, but because of how Geroy likes his house to be, we are more like family now. Geroy [Clearwater], he is like father because he is money and important man, and Thomas, he is like mother because he is bossy and always knows what is right. This makes Banyak [Silas] like the mistress, but that make me laugh, and Banyak is like brother with me now. Jimmy, he is also brother who looks after the boys, that’s Pianino and Vasily [Jasper and Billy], who are like nephews because they are young and naughty. Billy, he get in trouble with Thomas because he say words like ‘Bugger it, Me Lord’ and ‘Pig in shit’, and that make me laugh. Pianino is special, and needs Andrej to watch him, or he cry easily. This is because he is clever with music and did not have nice childhood. So, Andrej watches them all, and we are family.

By now in the series, I decided it was time we knew more about Andrej and Silas. They, after all, started us off in chapter one of Deviant Desire, and yet, their combined backstory had never been explained. How did they become such close friends?

Banyak & Fecks

I might have overindulged myself with this one, and popping a prequel into a series after eight books might seem a bit odd, but I wanted a break from the hardcore action of the first six books and the cosey mysteries of seven and eight. So, turned to the past.

Young Banyak (right) and Fecks taken in 1887

Banyak & Fecks is in four parts.
Part one gives us Andrej’s story from the moment he escapes the Russians. The first part of the book takes him from there to London and up to the point he meets Silas. The second part then flashes back to introduce us to Silas in the Westerpool (Wirral) slums, and we meet a very cheeky, confident young trickster who, when he comes to London, soon falls on hard times. Part three starts the moment Andrej and Silas meet, and their relationship evolves from there to part four. This is when Silas has got over his crush on Andrej. Andrej has ‘fallen in love’ with Silas though only platonically, and the two live together as a couple of besties. It is a classic bromance, only set in the Victorian slums of the East End. The book finishes a couple of days before Deviant Desire starts, during the reign of The East End Ripper (based on Jack the Ripper).

Negative Exposure

‘The White Ship’, home to Banyak & Fecks in 1887

Andrej plays a significant role in book nine. Things that happened in Banyak & Fecks come back to haunt Silas and potentially ruin everything Archer has built over the previous installments. You should read Banyak & Fecks before Negative Exposure to get the best from it, but it’s not 100% necessary. This story returns us to the previous action-adventure, platonic love, bromance themes of the earlier stories. As I wrote it, I was aware that book ten was on its way, and Negative Exposure runs directly into ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’

Andrej is in every story, there as a main player or in the background, and he is certainly in book ten. Or he will be when I finish it. He plays a major part in ‘the Clearwater Inheritance’, as you will see, and as this might be the last in the series as we know it, you may be in for some shocks.

I’ll finish by asking Andrej one more question.

A Ukrainian farmhouse, 19th century. Fecker’s home before it was destroyed.

Andrej, do you think you will ever return to Ukraine?
How I know this? I don’t know what Dolya has for me. I don’t know if my sister and second mother live, so how I know if I go back to look? I have Danylo and now… Now I have other news about Serbka and me when a boy. Now I have big decision to make because in Vienna I meet a man… Nyet. You not know this yet, so Andrej stay quiet. But I say this: my family is Clearwater now. Banyak, Jimmy, Pianino and Miss Lucy. I will marry Miss Lucy one day. She not know this yet, but I will tell her. So, maybe we go to Ukraine and I show her the Balai, but we not live there. Maybe I show her Vienna and… Maybe we stay at Larkspur where I am master of horse, and soon, we have little Feckers in the house. What happen next to Andrej? Only Dolya knows this.

[Actually, I know what happens next to the Clearwater crew, but you will have to wait for ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ to find out what that is. Currently, I am aiming for publication in June, maybe at the end of May.]