Line Edits and How I Go About Them

Line Edits and How I Go About Them

Here’s a note on editing.

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

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

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

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

Then we have:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodreads MM Romance Awards: 10 Nominations.

Goodreads MM Romance Awards: 10 Nominations.

The news this week has been about the ten nominations my novels have received at the Goodreads MM Romance awards. All ten are from the Clearwater and Larkspur series of books, where we have a mix of MM romance, mystery, history and bromance. I thought, today, I might give you the list of nominations and a few words about each. If you follow the links, you will see a list of nominated titles/authors in that category. Find the one you want to vote for, and click. You might need to be signed up to Goodreads to do this; I already am, so I could go straight to the pages. If you’re not, then it’s free and doesn’t take long, and you’ll discover a world of reading once you’re a member.

Here are the nominations.

Best Sex Industry Banyak & Fecks 

This is pleasing to see because I consider this one of my best novels. After writing eight Clearwater Mysteries in a row, I wanted to take a step back. I knew that Silas and Andrej were the best of friends when we meet them at the start of the series, in chapter one of book one, actually. What I didn’t know, was how they came to meet, other than what I described in ‘Deviant Desire.’ So, the purpose of ‘Banyak & Fecks’ was to put their two stories together. I also wanted to write something more personal to them, rather than a typical all-out Clearwater adventure.

This involved not only researching travel from Ukraine to England in the mid-1880s but also involved looking in-depth at the male prostitution scene of the same period. Not a lot has been written about that, and it’s hard to find references in the newspapers of the time. However, what I did find was invaluable, and much of what you read in ‘Banyak & Fecks’ is based on truth, including the fairground scene, the workhouse scene, and the rent boy rackets. As always, I incorporated localised cant (slang) and street language, Silas’ ‘Irishisms’ and Andrej’s Ukrainian heritage.

Guardians of The Poor nominated in 5 categories

There are incidents and characters in ‘Banyak & Fecks’ that have a knock-on effect years later when we get to book nine of the Clearwater series, ‘Negative Exposure’. That’s why I recommend reading the series prequel after book eight and before book nine. Book ten, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ leads on from book nine and was intended to be the finale of the series.

However, I wasn’t able to let the characters and their world go, and neither were my readers, so I developed ideas for the follow-on series during books nine and ten, and that’s how we come to the Larkspur Mysteries.

Larkspur is Clearwater’s country house in Cornwall. The series aims to bring in new characters while keeping the Clearwater crew in the background, sometimes in the foreground. Doing this enabled me to continue the popular Clearwater world, and have existing characters play parts big and small while giving us something new.

I always like to have an historic ‘theme’ in my novels, hence male sex workers in ‘Banyak & Fecks’, the theatre in ‘Unspeakable Acts’, Bram Stoker in ‘Bitter Bloodline’ and now, the workhouse in ‘Guardians of the Poor.’

‘Guardians’ kicks off the new Larkspur series with a new character, introduced at the beginning of it all, Dalston Blaze. (The name is explained in the story.) It was intended as a linking story between the two worlds, Clearwater and Larkspur, and it achieves that aim. What it also does, is start a three-part adventure for Dalston and his deaf lover, Joe Tanner (my favourite character, but don’t tell the others), which I am now finishing in book three, ‘Agents of the Truth’ due out early next year.

‘Guardians of the Poor’ has been nominated for five out of my ten nominations, which is stunning, and here’s a note about each one.

Best Historical 

The history behind Guardians is accurate. Some of the story takes place in the Hackney workhouse, I took some of the character names from newspaper reports of the time, and particularly, a scandal involving staff and inmates and illegal MM sex at the Chelsea workhouse. Even the law Creswell states in court in the early chapters is real, although I twisted it slightly, but the conditions of workhouse life, the terminology and some of the minor characters are all from real life. At least, they are from reports and experiences of first-hand witnesses written around the time the story is set.

The title, Guardians of the Poor comes from a description of the role of workhouse guardians (committee members) from the 18th century. It is what the philanthropists and staff of the Poor Law Unions were called, but in my case, it also refers to Dalston, Joe, and the Clearwater crew.

Best Cover Art 

This award is one of the most gratifying because it is not for me, it is for Andjela Kovacevic. I found Andjela through a freelancer for hire website when I began writing as Jackson Marsh, and she has been with me ever since. She has designed all 22 Jackson covers now, and I couldn’t ask for anyone better. It’s got to the stage where I’ll send her an email telling her vaguely what the story is about, when it’s set, and what I thought of for the cover. She will send back something perfect that I’d never have thought of. We tweak it sometimes, and there we go. Great design, great price, eye-catching cover and meaningful. It’s like she reads my mind. One day, we may even meet.

The cover art for Guardians shows my deaf character Joe Tanner signing the BSL word for deaf while thinking, and in the background is a moody depiction of life in a Victorian workhouse. Simple, to the point, and gorgeous—as is Joe.

Best Friends to Lovers 

When ‘Guardians’ starts, Joe and Dalston are already lovers, and I always knew they would be. What I didn’t know was how that was going to be possible in a workhouse at a time when homosexuality was punishable by two years in prison with hard labour. (Hanging as a punishment had not long been abolished.) Their backstory grew organically as Dalston told Clearwater his history. It was as if I let him tell the story, and I just transcribed it, and after a little adjusting for authenticity, I was rather pleased at how he told it. Writing the flashback sequence was gratifying because the character did the work for me.

Dalston and Joe start out as strangers when they are 12, with Dalston fascinated by the deaf mute, and Joe in need of understanding. Thanks to Dalston’s surrogate mother, the workhouse matron, Joe is allowed to live in the general population rather than the ‘imbeciles’ ward’ where deaf children would have been put. As was standard, he and Dalston share a bed. That’s all fine and innocent until they get to seventeen/eighteen when their best friendship becomes something more intimate. Maybe just for comfort to start with, but quickly it turns to love, and it’s that which keeps them surviving through their ordeals of ‘Guardians of the Poor’, ‘Keepers of the Past’ (though it’s a rocky road) and into ‘Agents of the Truth.’

Best Virgins 

Dalston Blaze and Joe Tanner. Virgins? Don’t make me laugh… Seriously, they were, once, and I think they deserve an award for losing their virginity to each other while living in the Hackney Workhouse. After all, it must have happened. The only question is how? Although there are no intimate sex scenes in the Clearwater and Larkspur series (apart from in the early books and Banyak & Fecks), there are ‘fade to black’ and suggested sex moments; the rest being left to the reader’s imagination. However, there is no doubt that when Dalston and Joe meet, they are virgins, but when we meet them in Guardians, they know each other intimately and lovingly.

Best Main Character 

Take a bow, Dalston Blaze. Read the series to discover why he deserves this nomination.

All Time Favourite M/M Series The Clearwater Mysteries

Romance features throughout the series. It’s a bit clunky in Deviant Desire as if I was fishing around trying to make a story about Jack the Ripper into a classic MM romance, and then deciding that, actually, it’s a mystery during which two unlikely people fall in love. It is, though, the start of a very romantic series where all the main characters are gay. Apart from Andrej/Fecker, who’s only ‘gay for pay.’

We have some lovely couples through the series: Rich Vs poor, Clearwater and Silas. Delicate Vs masculine with Thomas and James. Not allowed and can’t happen, between Clearwater and Thomas. Male-flirty between Silas and James. Bromance between Silas and Andrej. First-love with Jasper and Billy which has resulted in Best Coming of Age Home From Nowhere . Love under pressure, and between hearing and deaf with Dalston and Joe. Even straight love (in the background) with Andrej and Lucy.

All said and done, the series relies on bromantic male friendship for the emotional through lines and a darn good and historically accurate mystery for the action, and judging by popularity, award nominations and sales, it’s a winning mixture.

Best Book of The Year The Clearwater Inheritance

I’d always wanted to write Dracula. Well, not the story, of course, but to write something in a similar, epistolary style. ‘Inheritance’ is not 100% epistolary, as Dracula is (it’s not all written in diary form), but I use newspaper articles, telegrams and letters as a good 50% of the storytelling. There is also a classic journey involved, in this case, across Europe by train during the 1889 Russian flu pandemic, and part of that journey involves the Orient Express. This is the longest Clearwater novel, at 150,000 words, and was probably the most satisfying and fun to write.

All Time Favourite Author Jackson Marsh

Well, what can I say? I am my all-time favourite author too.

Seriously, thank you again for the nomination and thank you to anyone who takes the trouble to vote.

That’s a lot to take in, I know, and I shall say no more about these awards except for… How thrilling it is to have been nominated by the committee, how grateful I am to my readers for reading these novels, and how honoured I am even to be nominated. This kind of thing makes you realise that the hours you put into creating a novel are worth it, that others enjoy what you do, and that your creations bring pleasure to so many people. After all, that’s what it’s all about.

Click the links to vote, but for me, being nominated is the prize.

WIP: Week Four. ‘Agents of the Truth’

WIP: Week Four. ‘Agents of the Truth’

A Quick Update on ‘Agents of the Truth’

I’m sticking with the title. The more I get into the story, the more it makes sense. Some characters become agents for the Clearwater Detective Agency, and they are after the truth behind two mysteries. So, that’s that.

Last Sunday, I finished chapter 10, a short chapter that rounds off the end of the first act. The pieces and players are in place, we know the deadline, we’ve hit some dead ends in an investigation, and a new relationship is forming. Now, at the end of the first quarter, I am at 30,000 words and very happy with them I am too. As a first draft.

Next, the action will move to London, with some sections flashing back to Larkspur Hall as Archer, Tom and Nancarrow prepare for the event of the season, the bal masque, the charity masked ball.

A blacksmith’s forge, 19th century

As usual, I have been researching as I go, and have been using a few valuable resources. Shakespeare, the Bible, and an Edgar Allan Poe story have all come into play so far. I have read about working in a blacksmith’s forge in the late 18th century, men’s clothing (again), and what costumes were popular at masked balls of the time (not an easy thing to find). Oh, and Fleet has invented a board game that is ahead of its time. That was easy to research, as I have the actual game in a cupboard.

And so, onwards and upwards, as they say, and into Act Two.

Here is an extract from the end of chapter two.

 

Larkspur Hall, Cornwall
Monday 14th October 1890

There was no letterhead, no date, and no letter. Just a piece of plain paper on which were glued a series of words in different fonts. At first, he assumed it was James or his friend the barrister, Creswell, replying to their invitation in a way designed to be a joke. The unconnected words, however, suggested something far more sinister.

Prick, Bleed, Poison, Die, Wrong…?

‘What is it?’ Thomas was at the door with a collection of mail. ‘Are you unwell?’

Archer slipped the note beneath a book and looked up, feigning ease. ‘Hm? Oh, no. All is well, thank you. Just, er… Just pondering Shakespeare.’

‘What on earth for?’ Thomas took three long strides into the room and placed the mail on the desk. ‘Never mind. Here are today’s acceptances. The genuine ones. Where are you going?’

Archer had collected his jacket and was making for the door. ‘To the library. I have an urgent meeting.’

‘With whom?’

‘The Merchant of Venice,’ Archer replied, and left the room with his pace and pulse quickening.


I will see you on Saturday for my regular blog.

Jackson

Halloween Special: Tales of Mystery and Suspense

Halloween Special: Tales of Mystery and Suspense

As it’s Halloween this weekend, I wanted to share some of my James novels with you. Before I started on the Jackson Marsh affair, I wrote 14 books under my real name. They are a mix of biography (moving to and living on a Greek island), comedies, thrillers and horror stories, and it’s the creepy and horror ones I wanted to mention today. Later in this post there is news on the next Larkspur mystery, ‘Keepers of the Past’, and you will be the first to see the cover. I know you want to skip straight to it now to see what wonderful work Andjela has done, but you might want to pick up something dark and creepy for the weekend on your way.

The Judas Inheritance

This book came about because I was asked to write and help produce a film. The story was converted into a film later, and the film was made here on Symi, where the story is set. Sadly, the film was never released, apart from at film festivals (where it won some awards), and it was renamed to ‘The Thirteenth.’

The book holds the original story and is written in two voices. Here’s the blurb:

An ancient curse? Desperation in the economic crisis? What is causing the suicides of so many adults and children on this small Greek island?

When Chris Trelawney arrives on the island to take away his late father’s belongings, he finds that he has been left little more than a mystery. Was his father mad at the time of his death, or did he actually believe that he had awakened a powerful evil? An ancient evil that now stalks the islanders, growing stronger by the day. A curse that will cause the death of everyone around Chris unless he allows himself to believe that such things exist.

But when he discovers the truth, Chris realises that death is the easy option.

Reminiscent of Stephen King at his best with a final twist which I did not see coming.” Amazon review.

Link: The Judas Inheritance

Lonely House

This also started out as an idea for a film script. It’s a classic ‘cabin in the woods’ type of horror story, has a small cast, would make a good play or film, I feel, and has a mild gay vibe between the two central characters. Here’s the blurb.

How much horror can one friendship take?

Drover and Pete are two hopeful drifters looking for a better life. Desperate for food, they break into an isolated house deep in a forest. There, they accidentally shoot an old man just as the rest of his family arrive for a birthday gathering.

Under intense suspicion from the family, the boys attempt to cover up the accident. But they are not the only ones keeping a murderous secret. Mistrust and deception unearth a primaeval ritual as the lies give way to a terrifying truth.

With time running out, and a deadly force closing in, Drover and Pete’s survival rests on the strength of their friendship, but they must face some horrific choices in order to stay alive.

Another fantastic horror story from James. Full of mystery and suspense, the story will keep you guessing right up till the end.” Amazon review.

Link: Lonely House

The Saddling Series

Although not horror in the gory sense, The Saddling, Witchling and Eastling are suspenseful, and are a mix of supernatural, mystery and thriller. They are an ongoing series set in the present day (2012 onwards) on the Romney Marshes, in Kent. The village of Saddling thrives under its own archaic rules. Mostly cut off from the rest of the world, it has continued with its superstitions and rituals since it was founded in the 13th century. This is currently a three-part series, and I must get around to writing the fourth, because each one takes an element (earth, air, fire, water), a season and a solstice day. There is also a coming out and acceptance theme running through the series as a gay relationship develops.

Here’s the link to the series page on Amazon. The Saddling Mysteries.

Here are the blurbs:

The Saddling

To inherit his aunt’s fortune, Tom Carey must unlock a one-hundred-year-old family mystery. The solution lies on the Romney Marshes where the village of Saddling lives by an ancient Lore. Unknown to Tom, the villagers set in motion a chain of calculated events that will ensure that the winter solstice will witness their last ever ‘Saddling’ festival.

Unaware that his life is in danger, Tom befriends two village youths. Through the mists of fear and confusion, their friendship forces Tom to confront a secret of his own.

Tom finds himself the unwitting hero in a struggle between superstition and sense, denial and love, with no escape from either.

Meticulously imagined in the eerie mists of Romney Marsh. A wonderfully evocative landscape of mystery.” Ann Butler Rowlands (Author of ‘Heaven’)

Link: The Saddling

The Witchling

“The sins of our ancestors have committed us to the flames.”
Saddling is cursed and dying. The village will be lost unless someone burns at the stake on solstice morning. Six months after the life-changing events of The Saddling, Tom Carey must solve the witchling mystery and risk his life to save his lover.
The Witchling is the follow-on to James Collins’ best-selling novel, The Saddling.
Mystery and action combine in a sweltering thriller set on Romney Marsh.

This is an edge of the seat page turner which just keeps on twisting in a new direction right to the very end.” Amazon review.

Link: The Witchling

The Eastling

“At harvest tide no place to hide as Eastling passes through.”

The spectre of revenge stalks Saddling, and the Eastling is hungry for a victim. At some time on autumn equinox night, someone in the village will die.

Tom Carey fights to hold a divided village together while racing to unlock the riddle of a boy long dead. But pages of the Lore are mysteriously missing, and all he has to work with are a looker’s spoketale and a blind woman’s poem. As solstice approaches and the vengeful grey-hang thickens, Tom realises who the victim could be. Him.

Believable characters, gripping atmosphere and tension, all skilfully woven into an absorbing mystery set in the eerie landscape of Romney Marsh.”

(Emma Batten, author of Romney Marsh historical fiction)

Link: The Eastling


Andjela, my cover designer, designed the last two covers – Witchling and Eastling – the others were designed by someone else. I haven’t got to part four of the Saddling series (yet), but I did start writing it. As I did, I realised I was writing a different kind of story, and turning everyone gay. That wasn’t what the series was about, but I had such an urge to mix gay, history and mystery, I left it and tinkered with an idea that became Deviant Desire. That became an 11-book series and led to the Larkspur Mysteries, and I’m just about to reveal the cover of book two in that series, ‘Keepers of the Past.’

How was that for a segue? Eh?

Before the cover reveal, the blurb.

Keepers of the Past
The Larkspur Mysteries Book Two
Jackson Marsh

Forgive when there is nothing to forgive, and forget when there is.
Barbary Fleet, September 1890

Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, September 1890

Deaf since birth, Joe Tanner is destined for a life of misery in the workhouse until Lord Clearwater offers him a place at the curious Larkspur Academy in Cornwall. There, while adjusting to his new life, His Lordship challenges Joe to unlock the mystery of the Colvannick stone row.

As Joe sets about his task, he suspects a connection between the standing stones and a series of unsolved murders. The problem is convincing others, and his obsession soon threatens his relationship with his lover, Dalston Blaze. Joe’s determination to unearth the truth also jeopardises his place at the academy, but a man’s life is at stake, and the only one who believes in the mysteries of the past is Joe — and the killer who is prepared to murder anyone who interferes.

The second of The Larkspur Mysteries continues from book one, ‘The Guardians of the Poor.’ The Larkspur Mysteries are inspired by existing locations and newspaper reports from the time and combine fact, fiction, adventure and bromance.

If you have not yet read the preceding series, ‘The Clearwater Mysteries’, you might like to start with book one, ‘Deviant Desire.’ There are 11 books in the ongoing series including a prequel, ‘Banyak and Fecks’ which can be read first, although it is not a mystery. To get the most out of it, you should read it just before you read book nine, ‘Negative Exposure.’

The Clearwater and Larkspur Mysteries all feature gay main characters and are set at a time when homosexuality is illegal. They are a combination of MM/romance, mystery and bromance, and are inspired by historical fact.

I am aiming to have ‘Keepers’ up on Amazon by the end of the first week in November. Keep an eye on my Facebook page for details.

And now, finally, the cover. Again, another masterwork by Andjela K. Click the photo for the reveal, and I’ll see you next week.

Guardians of the Poor: Release and Cover Reveal

Guardians of the Poor: Release and Cover Reveal

Hello everyone!

I have exciting news for you this week and a unique treat. ‘Guardians of the Poor’ will be available in a couple of days, and as soon as it is, I will put the links on my Facebook Page. I also have the cover to show you. This is the first time anyone has seen it, and we will get to that in a minute.

Guardians of the Poor

Guardians of the Poor is the first in a new series, ‘The Larkspur Mysteries.’ This series follows on from ‘The Clearwater Mysteries’ and concerns some of the original characters but introduces new ones as we enter the world of Clearwater’s new academy. The Larkspur Academy is not a school, college or any other kind of institution in the usual sense, it’s a place where young men with a specific talent can come and be safe. Clearwater identifies these men, all of whom have something in common, and invites them to start a new life under the tutorship of Professor Fleet, or, as he prefers to be called, just Fleet.

This is actually my husband, Neil, but the image inspired me to write Fleet.

Fleet is something of an eccentric but is also a genius, and he brings some humour to the story while mentoring his young men, edging them towards self-improvement and allowing them to come out of their various shells (and to come out). Fleet, however, is not the main character in this first story; that role falls to a young man called Dalston Blaze. Where Archer (Clearwater) is the protagonist, Dalston is the main character and his friend Joe Tanner is the second MC if you like, or as some would say the impact character. Dalston finds himself with a sidekick, the foul-mouthed but totally loyal Greek-Londoner, Frank, and comes up against the flirtatious Scotsman, Duncan Fairbairn, who we first met in ‘Negative Exposure’, book nine of the Clearwater series.

The Mystery

The mystery in ‘Guardians’ isn’t so much a mystery but a problem to be solved, although there is a mystery quest, ‘Where is Joe, and how can we find him?’ That falls to the detectives, James Wright and Silas Hawkins to discover, along with Duncan, now their researcher. James and Silas are based in London, where they are watched over by the motherly Mrs Norwood, who has a crucial role to play later in the story. Meanwhile, Archer is at Larkspur, working with Dalston to uncover the story of the villains, a workhouse master and his schoolteacher, two very nasty pieces of work.

The story moves from London to Cornwall and the academy on the Larkspur estate, back to London, and finally, back to Cornwall, and the ending leads into book two, which I have started writing.

Workhouses and Deafness

As you know, I like to include actual events, places and sometimes people with my fiction, and ‘Guardians’ was inspired by a newspaper report about two men accused of and tried for ‘unnatural offences’ (i.e., gay sex). The book opens with a version of that newspaper report, which I first put in word for word. Then, after reading it back, I realised how convoluted and confusing the report was, so I tidied it up to make it more readable. It concerned the Chelsea workhouse in 1890, but I moved my action to the Hackney workhouse, because I knew the area better, and was more easily able to research the actual workhouse. Much of what you will read in the book is based on an authentic account of a man living in such an institution, as well as other writings I have found from those who experienced workhouse life first-hand.

Larkspur in BSL fingerspelling (gif)

My second principal character, Joe Tanner, is deaf. I thought it high time we addressed some social issues in my mysteries, and I have long wanted to write a deaf character, and I mean one who has been deaf from birth. Joe is deaf and dumb (I am sure there’s a more PC expression, but we are dealing with 1890 here), and that presented me with all manner of interesting challenges when writing him. Even more so now I have started on book two, where Joe is the main character.
I have been researching what it is like to be deaf to the point of studying sign language (BSL) and am trying to get to the bottom of how to write from a deaf person’s point of view. As you may know, I tend to write my novels from the characters’ POV, rather than an all-seeing narrator, and part of that is writing the action using words and thoughts suitable for the narrating character. Archer, for example, has a slightly more educated narrator’s voice than James or Silas. But how to do it for Joe? Because he is deaf from birth, he doesn’t know what words sound like, so when he reads, he doesn’t have a voice in his head, but instead (as I understand it), visualises signs and images. There are only a few instances when we hear Joe’s point of view in ‘Guardians’ but there will be much more in book two. That’s currently untitled, but it will involve a mystery of standing stones and murder.

But I am getting ahead of myself…

Guardians of the Poor, cover reveal

As I said, I will let you know when the book is ready, and I’ll announce that on Facebook, and here, later. Knowing how these things work, you may get a notification from Amazon before I do. That often happens because of the time differences around the world. I am aiming to upload the files this weekend. I am just waiting for the full cover from Andjela, so the print version may be a couple of days later than the Kindle. As usual, the book will be available for Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and in Paperback and only from Amazon.

And now, I can reveal the cover. Beneath this image, I have put the blurb for Guardians and the new series, but before that… Click the image, the Kindle cover will open, and you will be the first to see it.

Guardians of the Poor
Jackson Marsh

The greatest gift one man may give another is his trust.”
Barbary Fleet, 1890.

Standing stones, messages written in symbols, and the language of the deaf. It falls to Lord Clearwater to unlock the mystery of Dalston Blaze and his deaf friend, Joe Tanner, two young men arrested for committing ‘unnatural offences’ at the Hackney workhouse.

Dalston hopes for a prison sentence. It’s the only way to save his life. Instead, he is bailed to the Larkspur Academy on Lord Clearwater’s Cornish estate, where there is only one rule: honesty above all else. For Dalston, this means confronting his past, learning to trust, and admitting his secrets. Joe is the key, but Joe is missing, and his location is locked deep inside a memory seen in sign language, and clouded by eighteen years of workhouse life.

If Dalston remains silent, the immoral workhouse master and his sadistic schoolteacher will continue to inflict pain and suffering on all inmates of the Hackney workhouse. If he tells the truth, he and Joe will die.

The Guardians of the Poor is a combination of mystery, adventure and male romance, set in 1890. It draws on first-hand accounts of workhouse life at the time, and is the first of a new series of mysteries set in the Clearwater world.

The Larkspur Mysteries series

Beginning in 1890, The Larkspur Mysteries follow on from The Clearwater Mysteries series of 11 novels. It’s not necessary to have read the Clearwater books before you embark on the Larkspur series. However, if you enjoy mystery, romance, adventure and a mix of historical fact and fiction, then begin the journey with ‘Deviant Desire.’ (Or the non-mystery prequel, ‘Banyak & Fecks.’)

Lord Clearwater has created a unique academy for disadvantaged young men. The Larkspur Academy is, ‘A non-academic institution with the aim to provide deserving men the opportunity to expand talent, horizons and knowledge for the betterment of the underprivileged and general society.’ It’s not a school. There are no lessons, no teachers, no schoolboys and no rules. The series exists in the established Clearwater world of the late 1800’s where homosexuality is a crime everywhere but on Clearwater’s country estate in Cornwall.

The series is ongoing. Each story involves male bonding, bromance, friendship and love. Mystery, adventure and a little comedy play their parts, and every story is inspired by true events from the past.

Final Draft: How I Improve my Manuscript

Final Draft: How I Improve my Manuscript

This week, I wanted to give you an insight into how I edit and improve my manuscript. Remember, this is my process, and is not necessarily correct or the only way. I’ve used examples from my current work in progress (WIP), ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ The section I’ve borrowed from started off at 224 words and ended up at 164. That’s only 60 words shorter, but then editing isn’t always about cutting down your word count. I have identified several areas where I edit, and a professional editor would identify many more.

Here are my thoughts with examples.

Overall story

The first thing I do is write the first draft. When I do this, I am simply telling myself a story. I usually know how it will open and close, and I start at the beginning and work through. I make notes as I go and it’s a long list. I note:

  • Questions raised in the story, which I must answer later
  • Clues to be solved and their solutions
  • Character descriptions, eye colour, etc.
  • Dates and times, ages, birthdays
  • Ideas for developments and plot points
  • The timeline
  • My common typos so I can run a search/find later

I am also aware of my overall structure and pace, and as I like to use a classic four-act structure, I note when I have reached the end of each act. The acts generally run:

  1. Set up, inciting incident, MC’s current world, ending with a shift into a new world/experience/state.
  2. Developing to a mid-way twist or crisis,
  3. Reaction to that, finding answers leading to the major crisis and climax,
  4. Settling down, denouement and change.

Here’s an example of my section at draft one stage:

What hit him was a building as tall as the workhouse, a gravelled stable yard, and the smell of trees beyond a red brick wall. Once out of the carriage, Mr Hawkins told him to wait while he and the coachwoman stabled the horses, and taking in his surroundings, he noticed the double gates through which they had come. For a second, Clayton contemplated making a run for it.

Repetitions

Great, the first draft is done, and I have an overall picture of the story. Now, I start on draft two. The first thing I did with my current WIP was change the MC’s name from Clayton to Dalston. That’s easy to do in Word with find/replace. I also read through the text highlighting repetitions. When writing draft one, it’s easy to think, ‘Have I made that point? Will the reader take that in?’ So, I tend to restate important facts, mainly to ensure I have put them in. Later, I have to identify them and take them out, else they become repetitious.

Also, I’m aware of repeating words. In my current draft four, I am conscious that, in dialogue, I’ve been writing, ‘Now then,’ Mr Wright continued…’ for example, and I think my characters ‘continue’ on just about every other page. So, I’ve been finding ways around that repetitive habit. Similarly, I look for overuse of ‘He’ at the start of a sentence, as there’s always a better way around that. Ending a sentence with a pronoun doesn’t tread well either, so anything ending with him, her, it, they, is rewritten. There’s also the overuse of a character’s name, although you don’t want to constantly replace a name with him/her either. So, balance is key. (As is not using split infinitives such as ‘to constantly replace.’)

Right ideas in the wrong place

Here’s another thing I am guilty of. As I go through draft one, I often write in ideas for later or change an idea for a better one that comes naturally to mind as I write. This can be a real pain in the arse. For example, at one point, Dalston has lived 13 years in the workhouse and later, he’s been there since he was a baby. Here’s an example:

There was nowhere to go. The workhouse had been his home for thirteen of his eighteen years, and he couldn’t remember where he had lived before. His first memory was of a matron in a white cap standing him beneath a tap, naked and shivering, and dousing him with cold water. From then on, life had been a repetitive round of sitting in silence, standing in line, sharing beds and, later, picking at oakum with a spike, or breaking rocks in the rock shed.

That was draft one. By the time we get to draft four, we have something much more succinct and accurate to the story.

There was nowhere to go. The workhouse had been his home all his life; a repetitive existence of sitting in silence, standing in line, sharing beds, and picking at oakum with a spike.

The mention of his first memory was one of those ideas that felt right at the time, but later, I realised it was something for further on in the story. The example is from chapter three, now Dalston’s first memories come out in chapter 14 where their placement makes much more sense.

Too many words

Here’s part of the above example: From then on, life had been a repetitive round of sitting in silence, standing in line, sharing beds and, later, picking at oakum with a spike, or breaking rocks in the rock shed.

That, remember, has now become:

The workhouse had been his home all his life, a repetitive existence of sitting in silence, standing in line, sharing beds, and picking at oakum with a spike.

That’s 33 words down to 28, but again, cutting the word count isn’t everything. What’s missing from the later draft is or breaking rocks in the rock shed. We don’t need two examples of workhouse life, not at that point in the story. The sentence, although still long, is more succinct.

Here’s another example of me trying to get my thoughts in order over four drafts.

Draft one: Whether Joe would survive on his own was another matter, and one that brought Clayton more sadness than being left on his own.

Draft two: It was a question of survival, but not knowing if Joe would survive on his own caused Dalston more sadness than being left on his own.

Draft three: Joe could have been anywhere, though, and not knowing if Joe would survive on his own caused Dalston more sadness than being without him.

Draft four: Is the same as draft three, but I’m still not 100% sure. (The second Joe is not needed, it could be a ‘he’, the ‘would’ might become a ‘could’, and caused Dalston more sadness than being without him is clumsy.)

Grammar

Ah, yes, grammar. I’m not wonderful at this, and my punctuation is dodgy. That’s why I employ an expert proofreader. I also use a couple of programs. I started off with Grammarly, which is good at finding punctuation issues and other things according to its own style, but I found it messed around with my Word autocorrect and spellcheck. I unplugged that plugin and now use ProWritingAid. This wizard of a programme looks at all manner of things such as spelling, grammar, style, repeated phrases, passive verbs, sentence length, readability, clichés… There’s a lot to it, and you pick which parts you examine.

After draft two, I run each individual chapter through specific points in ProWritingAid. I look for grammar and style, overused words, sentence length, and clichés. Within those settings, the programme flags up passive verbs (which are not your enemy, just don’t overdo them), readability enhancements and repeated sentence starts.

Don’t just rely on these plugins, though. I also refer to published books on grammar and style and have my wonderful proofreader. Some would say that as you are creating your story in your style, you can employ whatever grammar you think fit, and yes, I suppose you can.
But it’s more about readability than showing off your crazy grammar style. Oops! I started a sentence with ‘but’, my old English teacher wouldn’t approve. But, it’s fine for emphasis. And, you can do it with and as well, for emphasis, but do it too often and you’ll read like an action comic. What you should do however is make sure the reader can understand what you’re saying because if you don’t write consistently and clearly using proper punctuation and you make your sentences too long and complicated as I often do in drafts one to three then your reader is literally going to run out of breath by the time they reach the end of what you’re trying to say.
Gasp.
In other words, don’t write sentences with no punctuation like I just did.

Be aware of some classic mistakes, such as the use of the Oxford comma: This book is dedicated to my readers, Harry and Sam. I have only two readers? No. This book is dedicated to my readers, Harry, and Sam. The comma replaces ‘to.’ This book is dedicated to my readers, to Harry, and to Sam.

And remember to help your uncle, Jack, off a horse, not help your uncle Jack off a horse.

And so on.

Do I mean that? (It.)

Every time I write a book, I do it for two reasons. 1) To write what I would like to read, and 2) To improve my writing a little more each time. Thus, I stay aware of bad habits, like starting sentences with ‘He’ and having my characters ‘continue’ during dialogue. Or, ‘What is that?’ she asked. We know she’s asking, there’s a question mark right there! Oh, and don’t use too many !! Certainly don’t put two together, and try to aim for none.
Another thing I’ve found myself doing recently is using ‘it’ when I know what I am talking about, but the reader may not. This usually happens with a break between the subject and the use of ‘it.’
Dalston put his sketchbook on the table when Frank came back with a sewing kit and wanted to fix a lock to it.
Say what? That was a made-up example, but not far off what I sometimes do when my brain is working faster than my fingers. What I meant was, Dalston put his sketchbooks on the table. When Frank returned, he brought a sewing kit, intending to attach a lock to the book…

Always read and reread sentences as if you’ve never seen them before. In fact, you should do that with the whole MS and ask yourself, ‘Am I saying what I mean to say, or am I writing lazily?’
Oh yes, and you can use adverbs, just don’t do it all the time.
Don’t be lazy: ‘I ain’t like that.’ Dalston was angry. (Boring!)
‘I ain’t like that!’ Dalston kicked the chair away and balled his fists. (Better.)

This leads me on to:

Can I make it better?

All of what I’ve been talking about comes down to the same end: Can I make it better? The answer is always ‘Yes’, but the question is always ‘How?’
There’s a theatre saying that’s bantered around as a joke, and I’ve used it myself when working on musicals as a director. ‘Let’s do it again, only better.’
Better is not specific, of course, and only you will know when your MS is perfect. For you. It will never be perfect for everyone, but you should always make it the best it can be.
Be critical of your own work. Don’t write it, read it, and think, ‘That’s wonderful. It’s done.’ Nothing is ever finished. I rarely read my books once published because I always see how I could have done something better or differently. I’m still finding better words for lyrics I wrote for a show in 1997, not that it will ever be performed again.
It’s not about taking out words but improving the ones you have. Well, sometimes it is about taking out words and putting them in another chapter because it’s something you want to say but doesn’t feel right when you first put it.
It’s not about trawling the thesaurus for something other than good, bad, ugly, it’s about asking why you wrote ‘good’ rather than leaving the reader with the impression something was good. Dalston woke feeling good, is pretty rubbish, really. Dalston woke with a spring in his step, is a cliché. Dalston woke full of the joys of… Don’t even go there. Dalston woke, remembered what the day promised, and grinned his toothy grin. Well, it’s a start.

Have I gone too far?

As I rewrite my drafts, I ask myself ‘Is this needed?’ and if it isn’t, it goes in the Cut folder, just in case I want it after all, or it contains something I can reuse another time. Currently, I have an entire chapter in the ‘Guardians’ Cut folder, and three other folders containing the first three drafts. I have been editing the MS for some weeks now, and it started at 105,000 words and is currently at 104,000. That means I have taken out only 1,000 words. Some writers suggest you should cut 20% from your first draft word count, and maybe that’s correct. I probably have cut 30,000 words from my first draft, but then I have replaced most of them with something better.
The trick is to improve your work, and if that means cutting, then do so, but remain aware of your style. Don’t just cut for the sake of it, but similarly, don’t leave something in a) if you’re not sure about it, and b) just because you like it. Whatever you take out, you can use elsewhere. Even if you can’t, what you have written has been practice, and by cutting it—no matter how painful it was to do—you have learnt something from the experience.
When I set about writing a chapter, the first thing I ask myself is, what is the POC? That’s my shorthand for Point Of Chapter. What is the point of this chapter? Is it to advance the plot or the character? Hopefully, both. I apply the same to any sections I am not sure about. I ask myself, what is the point of this paragraph? Is it scene-setting, a transition from one scene to another, is it colourful background, setting the time or era, or is it because I rather liked the prose and thought everyone should be treated to it?
Always wonder about your POC, and if a chapter has no plot advancement or character development, then you probably don’t need it.

And now, I think I have gone too far. I’ve rambled through my early morning thoughts, and I must return to my WIP and continue to check my POCs, cut out ‘continue’, check my pace, spelling, punctuation and readability, and make the MS as good as it can be.

I’ll be back next Saturday with an update on ‘Guardians of the Poor.’

Researching and the Larkspur Mystery Series

Researching and the Larkspur Mystery Series

Hi everyone,

This Saturday, I thought I’d tell you how I’m doing with the new series, The Larkspur Mysteries. I also have a treat for you at the end of this blog in the form of a flash fiction piece, but we will get to that later.

What are the Larkspur Mysteries to be?

A series of mysteries that revolve around a central character who is in some way involved with Lord Clearwater’s new Larkspur Academy. The Larkspur Academy is a place where young men can develop their unique talents and was inspired by Jasper Blackwood and Billy Barnett from the Clearwater Mysteries. Although it is overseen by the Clearwater Estate, it is run by a mentor instead of a headmaster as it is not a school, and he lives in the house with his men. They are not students as it is not a college, and deciding what to refer to them as has been one of my first headaches.

Merevale Hall, the buliding on which the Larkspur Academy is based.

The mentor is the eccentric but brilliant Barbary Fleet, and when the series starts, he and the academy have been in place for four months. There are already four young men there, benefiting from the Clearwater contacts, Fleet’s way of improving people, and from having space simply to be themselves.

Each story will take a central character. I was going to start the series off with Barbary Fleet himself and show how he came to be chosen to run this unusual establishment. I thought about giving readers a ‘how the academy started’ story along with Fleet’s own, but I’ve decided to do that in a later book. A little like how Banyak & Fecks is the prequel to the Clearwater Mysteries and yet wasn’t written until after book eight. By the time I have written a few of these new mysteries, I will know more about Fleet and the academy, which will make for a better prequel.

Anyway…

What is the First Story?

LLoyd’s Weekly London Newspaper June 1st 1890

Each of the stories will start with, or be inspired by, an actual event. The first book had a working title of ‘Dalston Blaze’, and I considered titling each one after the principal character. However, now I am 60,000 words into the first draft, I have thought of another working title, ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ We shall see. Whatever the title, the story was inspired by an article I found in Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper, dated June 1st 1890, exactly the right time for the period of my story. The piece was headed, The Chelsea Workhouse Scandals and the opening reads thus: Joseph Bailey, 35, porter, and Hugh Johnson, 16, were indicted for inciting each other to the commission of unnatural offences… Another line, later in the piece, states …the jury, after what they had heard, did not desire to hear counsel for the defence, which I thought was outrageous.

What set me off on a trail towards a mystery was the idea that two men were tried (unfairly, by the sound of it) for intending to have sex together, the unnatural offences mentioned in the report. What we have, are two men in a workhouse and facing five years of penal servitude for, as we’d say now, being gay. (Five years is what the older one got, the younger one’s sentencing was postponed, and I’ve not been able to find out what happened to him.) That sounds exactly like the kind of thing Clearwater would get his teeth into, and just the sort of men he would want to save, but how to mould a mystery?

The Hackney Workhouse.

What if the character in the dock, who we’ll call Dalston Blaze and who is 18, wants to be sentenced? What if it is his only way of avoiding death? And what if he is being guarded in the dock by a young Irishman posing as a policeman who is there to spring him from gaol? What if a new barrister has been called to represent him, a man called Sir Easterby Cresswell, who has an assistant by the name of Wright? And what if, by some ancient legal argument, Creswell holds off the sentencing until the partner in crime, who is missing, has been found? What if the missing man, also 18 and from the workhouse, was also a deaf mute? And what if the ‘evidence’ against the two was a message written in symbols because that’s how they communicate?

Then… What if Dalston finds himself bailed to the care of the Larkspur Academy?

And so it went on.

Inside the Hackney Workhouse, stone-breaking yard.

I have not only been researching old newspapers for stories to inspire, but I have also been looking into workhouses and sign language because my missing character is deaf from birth. The mystery is mainly ‘Why does someone want to kill these two workhouse boys?’ They are, by then, porters, but they have grown up together in the workhouse since they were twelve. They are best friends (possibly more?) and communicate via signs and symbols. Then, there is the mystery of what has happened to the missing deaf man, Joe?

Workhouse Children, Dalston Blaze when young.

It’s been a fascinating journey so far, and my research list is growing longer by the day. I don’t know when this book will be ready, there’s a long way to go yet, and it’s only the first draft. As it sets up the feel for the rest of the series, I need to make sure I get it right, so bear with me.

Meanwhile, here are some of the sites I’ve been using, along with books, for my research, in case anyone is interested in knowing more about the Victorian Workhouse, and the development of British Sign Language (BSL). After this list, I have the flash fiction treat for you.

The British Newspaper Archive
Homosexuality In Nineteenth-Century England
Workhouses.org (My workhouse is based on the one at Hackney)
Brief History of BSL


Lord Bastion Announces

This was a piece I wrote for an anthology. It’s my first piece of flash fiction, i.e. a very short story complete in itself. As you can tell from my books, I tend not to write short stories, lol! So, this was something of a challenge to produce, but in the end, I was rather proud of it and thought I’d share it with my readers. Enjoy, and I’ll be back next week.

Jackson

Lord Bastion Announces
Jackson Marsh

Fleetfoot straightened his wing collar and leant his well-trained ear to the activity beyond his butler’s pantry. Servants moved through billowing kitchen steam in the vaulted chambers, and the day began in butler-acceptable fashion. Satisfied, Fleetfoot turned his scrutiny to the flat-iron and the daily broadsheet.
How many years had he spent with this iron? Too many for any other life, yet not enough.
Fleetfoot had loved his master in silence and servitude through an age of stigma. Lord Bastion, inventor and newspaper owner, was forbidden to express love. He, like Fleetfoot, dared not utter the unspeakable, forced by Victorian convention to deny the unnatural.
Secret life was a trial for both, but His Lordship knew he was loved by the unquestioning thing of black and white that glided through pillared halls. The man who gently closed laboratory doors, bowed his head and obeyed. The same companion now ironed the newspaper to set the ink, so his master’s untouchable fingers remained unsullied.
Licked finger, iron-touch, hiss and press.
Fleetfoot regarded the headline. Lord Bastion Invents… The master was always inventing, the headlines always lauding. Page two. Reheat, lick finger, touch and continue; every page the same.
Lord Bastion Announces… The master announced every day, but no reader knew what because a blank space always followed the caption.
Fleetfoot ironed the empty page, as was his time-worn duty.
Lord Bastion Announces… Something that only appeared when the ink was heated to the exact temperature by the correct iron pressed at the precise pressure by the only man able to read His Lordship’s daily declaration.
Lord Bastion Announces Fleetfoot, too, is loved.
The butler continued to iron his master’s newspaper and, like every day, was careful to catch the teardrops before they smudged the ink.

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

**********************************

 

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

**********************************

 

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!

 

The Clearwater Inheritance: Blurb, Excerpt and Cover

The Clearwater Inheritance: Blurb, Excerpt and Cover

Today, I have an advance peek at the blurb, cover, and part of The Clearwater Inheritance, book ten in The Clearwater Mysteries series. We are aiming for publication around the 12th of June, so keep an eye on my Facebook page for more details.

The blurb

A book blurb is the text you find on the back of a book, the thing that tells you a little about the story you are about to read. For ‘Inheritance’ I didn’t want to give too much away, and it’s quite a complicated story. A blurb should be short and to the point, and they are often the most difficult things to write. I try to start with a ‘logline’, as they call it in the film world; a short statement that sums up the entire story. Here’s an example taken from ‘Game of Shadows.’ Detective Sherlock Holmes is on the trail of criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty, who is carrying out a string of random crimes across Europe.

That tells us who and what the film is about, though it doesn’t give details, nor does it spoil any surprises.

Here is what I have for The Clearwater Inheritance at the moment. You will notice I have also included a quote because that’s just something I like to do when I can.

Excerpt

Here’s an excerpt that doesn’t give away any spoilers, but, I hope, it will leave you wondering what’s going on. This hasn’t been proofread or formatted yet, and it may change slightly by the time of publication. It is part of chapter 30, and I have omitted the first part of the chapter so as not to spoil anything for you, but I have put the chapter heading.

Between Szeged, Hungary and Vienna, Austria

Saturday 18th January
Night

The locomotive steamed west from Budapest, its steel plough slicing snow and hurling it aside in swathes. Its pistons pumped an incessant pulse, while the chimney belched a constant stream of smoke that billowed from tunnels and trailed behind to hover above the sleeping countryside.
Cities fell away to become dense forests topped with silvery-blue moonlight that bathed the land from the hedgerows to the star-showered horizon. The Danube glinted beneath the cloudless sky until the train left the river to its meandering and sped away on its own path. The warm throw of yellow light from the dining car brushed banks and fields, the silhouettes of the wealthy rising and falling over cuttings in distorted shapes and vanishing as the carriages pounded across bridges. Firemen shovelled, stewards served, and passengers dreamt of elegance in gently rocking bunks, unaware of the rise and fall of the hills, and the urgent, shrill night-cry of the whistle.
The Orient Express kept its times, crossed the borders, and made its destinations. It saw its passengers on and off through a night that held the continent from Constantinople to Calais in an icy grip as brittle as the thinnest crystal. Night ferries crossed the channel miles from the locomotive and its precious passengers, and the same moon glowed as full over them as it did over Larkspur Hall. The same light bathed the moor, its rises and valleys a patchwork of grey and silver shadows, the countryside blanketed in a fine covering of pristine snow.
An owl swooped from an ancient, weathered oak to glide across a frozen stream. Alert for movement but finding none, it rose on silent wings to watch over the estate where Larkspur waited in the pensive darkness, shuttered and blind. The owl circled the tower and followed the parapet, passing rooms where footmen slept, and dormers under which maids turned in dreams of sweethearts and summer days. Attracted by a solitary light, the bird landed on a cornice washed by the throw from an oil lamp and twitched its head, intrigued by and concerned for what took place inside.
Beneath the sloping roof, a young man sat on the edge of an older woman’s bed, holding her hand, and mopping her brow. Her lips moved weakly, and her pale flesh was uncoloured by the lamp-throw which lit the man’s hair in shades of russet and bronze. Light caught the tears that dropped from his cheeks as, leaning closer to listen, he gripped the frail hand tightly, made promises, spoke comforting words and said thanks, until the life in her dulling eyes faded.
His head hung, and his shoulders heaved as he placed her hands across her chest. Wiping his cheeks, he closed her eyes before lifting the sheet to cover her head and said a final goodbye.
When the man approached the window and placed a candle there to flicker in remembrance, the owl dropped from the parapet and continued its flight. It passed the tower where a younger man slept beside a dying fire with a letter in one hand. Building plans, fallen from the other, lay on the floor abandoned to sleep.
The owl passed into the depths of night, while in the corridor beyond the tower, a butler turned down the gas until the passage was a monochrome path of dimly glowing glass and careful footsteps. Pausing at a door, he listed for sounds from within, but his master was sleeping, and he continued to where the two wings of the house met. There, with the grand hall in darkness, he slipped through the baize and followed the winding, stone steps to the ground floor, dimming lamps and securing locks.
The servants’ hall was deserted, but in a few hours, would begin another day as the hall boys laid the fire and stoked the ovens, swept the floors, and washed the tables long before the day considered dawning. The butler met his steward there and learnt his news. The men consoled each other, reminded themselves of their positions and responsibilities, and went their separate ways.
The steward took the path the butler had recently taken, along concealed passages, up the winding stairs, and emerged in the grand hall, there to pause for a moment to relive a memory before climbing to the first floor. Like his colleague, he stopped outside the master bedroom but didn’t disturb its occupant. Instead, let himself into his own room, there to mourn alone.
Throughout the Hall, bristles of moonlight investigated curtain edges and stole around them to play on rugs and furniture. Clocks ticked, and springs wound towards release. The considered chime of a grandfather clock struck regretfully from the library and echoed through the stillness, while the drawing room carriage clock tinkled, polite and distant. In the smoking room, the Wilard lighthouse tolled beneath its dome, and the brass spheres of the anniversary timepiece swung relentlessly back and forth.
In the study, soft ticking on the mantlepiece counted away the seconds, as the last of the embers shuffled through the grate to their rest. Gently, the hour passed, the echoes died, and Larkspur slept in darkness.
But not in silence.
At some time during the night, when clouds had put the moon to bed, and the owl had retaken its perch on the faraway oak, the wood and brass telegraph shocked itself into life. In the alcove beside the moon-forgotten desk, the steel pins snapped their delicate jaws in urgent rhythm, and the wheel turned.

Cover

And finally, the cover.
As you may know, I have been working with graphic designer, Andjela Vujic since publishing my first novel. She has designed all my covers, and some have been nominated for awards. Again, she has come up with exactly the image I had in my mind when I outlined the main elements of the story. What’s unusual about this one is that it’s the first of my covers not to feature a figure. If you look at the Clearwater covers, you can see Archer, Silas, Fecker, Jasper, Billy, and the assassin, Dorjan. There are too many main players in ‘Inheritance’ to single anyone out for the cover, and so I went for… Well, I shan’t tell you as you’ve not seen it yet.

When you’re ready, you can click the reveal image below, and the full front cover will open in a separate window.
But don’t do it just yet! I have one more piece of news. Next Saturday, I have a guest blog post for you. It is not from another author, and it’s not advertising anyone else’s books. It’s not even a character interview, though the man who will be writing it is something of a character. My husband, Neil, will be writing his thoughts about what it’s like to married to an author. I can’t wait. (I think.)
Okay, now click the reveal to see the cover, and remember to keep an eye on the blog and the Facebook page for more news of the release date for The Clearwater Inheritance.

Click to see the cover