The Clearwater Mysteries: Opening Lines

Today, I thought I’d put up the first paragraph(s) of each of the Clearwater Mysteries, plus a link to the book’s Amazon page. If the series is new to you, you can find out some more info about each book from The Clearwater Mysteries page, and the link is in the menu.

First, here’s a reminder of a promo that’s running via Book Funnel. Historical mystery, action, adventure, and a few select titles and authors you may not have tried before. Click the pic to see the full list.

And now, the opening chapters of each of the 11 Clearwater books starting with the prequel (which isn’t really a mystery).


Late summer, 1881
Serbka, Ukraine

Andrej waited until the darkest hour before he untied his wrists with his teeth, and freed his feet from the knots. Leaving the children to their troubled dreams, he slipped silently from beneath the cart, and crawled towards the older men and widows sleeping beneath the trees. Alert, he fixed his eyes on Blumkin. The man had taken his knife, and Andrej was not leaving without it.

Silas Hawkins was searching for coins in an East End gutter when a man four miles distant and ten years older sealed his fate. Silas had no idea that the discussion taking place concerned him, or that it was even happening. He wouldn’t know the details for some time, but even if he had heard the conversation, he wouldn’t have believed it. It wouldn’t have concerned him if he had, because Silas wasn’t the kind of youth to shy from a challenge, not even one that might threaten his life.

James Joseph Wright was born on January 10th, 1863 at the precise moment the world’s first underground train delivered its passengers to Farringdon station. As the locomotive puffed and fumed from the tunnel, James’s mother, some four miles distant, puffed and fumed through her own first delivery.

The Times, Thursday, December 1st, 1888
Opera House Gala

Famed countertenor, Mr Cadwell Roxton is to make his debut appearance at the Opera House in “Aeneas and Dido”, an acclaimed if unusual work by Austro-German composer, Johann Bruch.
Mr Roxton was the sensation of the 1887 Paris season, following that triumph with another in Leipzig the subsequent spring. His debut at our opera house this month will herald the beginning of what this publication hopes will be an illustrious career on the opera stage for a countryman returning home from his studies after training in the conservatoires of Europe.

On the night of December 17th, 1888, a stinging north wind buffeted the city forcing all but the bravest to stay in their homes. Whether that home was a dosshouse in the East End or a villa abutting Saint Matthew’s Park, whatever protection could be found from shutters and curtains was employed to keep back the icy blasts. The day dawned with a silvery sky, but the weak winter sun stood no chance against the mass of heavy cloud that rolled in from the north to swamp the entire country before delivering, in parts, blankets of snow and ice. By the evening, livestock had frozen in their stables, the mainline railways became impassable, and in the darker, unwanted parts of the city, thirty-two deaths occurred before nightfall “From ill weather”.

Folkestone Harbour, April 1889

As he waited for his visitor to arrive, Benjamin Quill squinted at the society pages of the national newspaper with his one good eye. It was an edition from the previous week, but he didn’t require the news to be up to date, knowing that once such an announcement was made, it would remain unchanged, barring serious accident or death. Last year, he had suffered the former, and that had led him to plan the latter. Not his own death, of course, and not that of Clearwater, that delight would come in time.

London, July 1889

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

27th July 1889. Kingsclere House, Hampshire

Jasper Blackwood’s life changed beyond recognition on the morning of 27th July 1889. The previous night, he had gone to bed unaware of correspondence exchanged between a viscount and a footman, a butler and a housekeeper. As he fell exhausted onto his straw mattress in his basement anteroom, he fully expected to wake at six, and set about the next day’s duties exactly as he had performed every day for the last seven years.
It was not to be.

Clearwater House, London
September 1889

Jasper’s eyes were on the clock while his hands frantically polished Lord Clearwater’s riding boots, but his mind was on Billy and an organ recital. Beyond the boot room, the clattering in the kitchen told him Mrs Roberts was rushing to stock the pantry and fill the cold shelves, the persistent clip of Harvey’s shoes passing back and forth told him the cases were coming down to the coach, and a proclamation from Mr Payne left no doubt there were only fifteen minutes left before the viscount was due to leave.
Throwing down the buffing cloth, he carried the now gleaming boots into the servants’ passage in time to meet Harvey returning from the yard.

The Pall Mall Gazette, Fourth Edition
December 4th, 1889

Two London Cases.

Thousands of sufferers in Berlin.

Something very like the influenza epidemic which is raging in St. Petersburg has now spread to Berlin, and thousands are down with it.
The epidemic is (a Helsingfors telegram says) still spreading. Everybody one meets has either had or is expecting to succumb to the malady. Editors apologise for the delay in issuing their newspapers, and the scanty news in them. Letters remain undelivered, the postmen being sick. Offices are closed for want of clerks. The illness is preceded by two or three days of lassitude. Then fever breaks out at half an hour’s notice, and increases rapidly for six or eight hours, and is accompanied by delirium, headache, a swelling sensation in the joints, irritation of the throat, pain in the limbs, and a teasing cough.

Rasnov Castle, Transylvania

January 1890

Snow whipped the ancient fortification, caught in the vicious gusts of an unforgiving north wind. Stolen from the pine forests and thrown across the plain, it swirled against the castle walls where it collected in fissures and made its home, there to wait for spring before releasing its glacial grip. Some gathered in the arrow slits and window recesses, clinging to the bars and caking the shutters. Flurries torn from the masonry were buffeted to the roof, coating the tiles in peaks as jagged as the surrounding Carpathians, and some found their way through the rotting wood and mortar cracks to dust the sills and embrasures.

You can find all the books from the Clearwater Series page on Amazon.

Looking for a Great Historical Mystery?

If you’ve come here looking for a great historical mystery to read, I’ve again got the perfect thing for you. Not only my own books, which you can find on my Clearwater Mysteries page, and not only The Larkspur Mysteries which continue in the Clearwater world with new characters taking centre stage and established characters supporting, but also Finding a Way, the first in the new Delamere Files series.

Plus, all the books currently available in Kindle Unlimited in this excellent Book Funnel promotion:

K. C. Sivils, A. H. Wang, Y. G. Knight, and authors without initials, such as Rose Donovan and Nadya Frank, all have titles on offer here, along with my series starters, Deviant Desire (Clearwater), Guardians of the Poor (Larkspur), and Finding a Way (Delamere).

Astute readers might notice that my series titles are the names of three of Lord Clearwater’s homes; Clearwater House, London, Larkspur Hall, Cornwall, and Delamere House, the next-door, sister property to Clearwater House in Knightsbridge. Why? I don’t know, it just seemed like the sensible thing to do. When I first came up with the property names, I never thought I would be creating three series around them, but that’s what happened, and I’m glad it did. When writing the Larkspur Mysteries, and bringing in Lady Marshall’s country home, I thought carefully about the name of the place, having in mind the idea I may set another series there in the future. That’s why I came up with Stoneridge Castle. I was thinking of something spookier, still mysterious, maybe steampunk-ish, and based around Hope & Hyde from the Larkspur Academy. If I ever do, you will be the first to know. Meanwhile, back to this Book Funnel promo and all the delights that go with it: Self-pub mysteries with an historical background, all available in KU, so you can easily add them to your library, also available in other formats if you aren’t in KU and want to buy and all at discounted or very reasonable prices.

There. That should set you up for a few weeks. Meanwhile, I am currently editing and rewriting the final chapters of ‘A Fall from Grace’, the Delamere Files book two, and have it booked in with Anne Atwood, my long-suffering and rather excellent proofreader for the first days of October. This weekend, I must start thinking about the cover so that, in a couple of weeks, I can let you know when this next book will be ready for you.

Have a good weekend, check in on Wednesday for the regular work-in-progress update, and above all, keep reading!

Guardians of the Poor and a Book Funnel Offer

If you are looking for a great Historical mystery to read, you might want to check out this list of titles on this Book Funnel promo. They are all in KU, so won’t cost anything, but even if you’re not in KU, a click on a cover will take you to the cover and blurb and on to that book’s Kindle or print-version page so you can order a copy.

As you can see, Guardians of the Poor is on the list (along with the other two series starters, Deviant Desire and Finding a Way.) I was really pleased to see Guardians has already picked up over 70 interactions on Amazon, has a review score average of 4.6 there and on Goodreads (not that I have much faith in these things), and the reviews continue to be favourable. This, I hope, bodes well for the success of the Delamere series.

I am still editing book two, and today will contact my proofreader to find a suitable date to start proofing. I must then turn my mind to a cover idea and get in touch with Andjela. After that, the process will rumble on until sometime in October when the second in the Delamere series will be released. In the meantime, head over to the promo and pick up some other historical mysteries from some very talented authors.

Book Funnel Promo: Historical Mystery and Mystery & Suspense Books

Today sees the start of another excellent Book Funnel promo: Mystery & Suspense / Historical Mystery and Mystery & Suspense / Thriller all on Kindle Unlimited.

The theme of the promo is historical mystery, and the required theme is: The plot must centre around historical events and locations AND have a mystery or crime involved.

Well, as soon as I saw that, I thought of everything from Deviant Desire to Guardians of the Poor and beyond.

The Clearwater Mysteries

These stories start in 1888, with Deviant Desire centred around the Ripper murders of 1888, and continuing into Twisted Tracks. Then comes, the Royal Opera House season of the same year in Unspeakable Acts, and as the series continues, we have all manner of historical events and locations, including, the Lyceum Theatre (1889) and the Cleveland Street Scandal, not to mention the characters, Henry Irving, Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Sullivan and others of the time.

The Larkspur Mysteries

The follow-on series does the same, starting with life in the Hackney workhouse, and various real-life locations from 1890 onwards, the standing stones of Cornwall, historic inventions and science, the railways, and various real-life trials and scandals.

The Delamere Mysteries

Beginning in 1892, this series is separate from the Larkspur Mysteries, but continues from the same time in the same world, with some of the same characters making appearances, but it focuses on three new MCs who will drive the future stories forward. There’s certainly a mystery and some thrills in ‘Finding a Way’, and also a lot of historical accuracy, particularly around the life of Jack Merrit, a London cabbie.

The Promo

As you’ll see if you head to the promo page, there are mysteries and thrillers set in various times throughout history. There are novels by Olivia Le Roux, K C Sivils, and Joni Swift among others including myself, with stories set in various time periods with the 1930s in particular being popular.

All titles are available on KU, so if you’re already subscribed to Kindle Unlimited, they won’t cost you a penny. If not, you can still get them at prices ranging from $0.99 to $3.99 ($9.99 for the box sets).

Check out the promo through the following link, and add some more historical, mystery and thriller reading to your list.

Mystery & Suspense / Historical Mystery and Mystery & Suspense / Thriller and all on Kindle Unlimited.

Be back here on Wednesday for more news on the second Delamere Files book, ‘A Fall from Grace’ and catch up on progress.

Cover Reveal: Finding a Way

Finding a Way is the first book in the new Delamere Files series, and today, you can see the full cover for the first time.

This series begins in June 1892, six months after the Larkspur Mysteries ended. It is set in the Clearwater world of late Victorian England, and some characters from the Clearwater and Larkspur mysteries appear or are mentioned, but they are not the main cast.

If you have read the Clearwater collection, you will know that Delamere House is the property next door to Clearwater House in London. It is where Lady Marshall used to live, and the building is owned by Lord Clearwater. In the early 1890s, it became the headquarters for the Clearwater Detective Agency under James Wright and is also the house where Joe Tanner and Dalston Blaze live. The house appears later in ‘Finding a Way’, and will feature more as the series continues.

However, ‘Finding a Way’ is not about Delamere House, it is about Jack Merrit, a young London cabbie with a heap of challenges who finds himself unwittingly involved in the solving of a crime. Around this central story is a story of self-acceptance, coming out (as we’d call it these days), and a very slow-burn love story that will develop through several of the books to come.

‘Finding a Way’ will be available in August, and I will let you know when it is published. Meanwhile, here is the blurb as it stands now, and below that, the title. Click on the title to see the cover and meet two of the cast.

Finding a Way

The Delamere Files book one

It began with a man sobbing in the night.

Twenty-five-year-old Jack Merrit struggles to make a living as a London cabbie, and when he is robbed by a fare, he can see no future for himself and his beloved younger brother, Will.

Enter Larkin Chase. A dashing writer of social observations and a man in search of love. After learning Jack’s story, Larkin sees the chance for him to earn a twenty-pound reward. All he has to do is identify the pair of crooks that robbed him.

The crooks, however, are at the top of the heap of a notorious East End gang who know no boundaries when it comes to silencing a witness. With Jack’s world crumbling around him, he is drawn to Larkin by an unnatural desire which he must either fight or allow if he is to see justice done and win his reward. When an equally dashing young detective arrives on the scene, Jack’s life becomes even more complicated, and when the criminal gang exact their revenge, he is set on a life-or-death quest that will forever change his life. Or end it.

Cover Reveal

Click the image to open the full front cover.

Free for Pride

Happy Pride Month everyone. I know Pride Day is celebrated on 28th June, but I’m getting in an early celebration and announcing The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge is free today, 24th. That’s given me an excuse to write a little about how the Mentor books came about and to tell you a little about each one, in the order they were written. (Click the covers or links to go directly to each book’s Amazon page.)

Free today

The Mentor of Wildhill Farm

Apart from ‘Other People’s Dreams’ which I wrote years ago, The Mentor of Wildhill Farm was my first foray into writing novels as Jackson Marsh. I had previously written several novels as James Collins, and all but one has a gay character or characters, but none of them were specifically ‘gay novels.’ You can check them out on my other Amazon page here. I had been writing gay erotica for a few websites and magazines and thought, ‘Why not make a novel out of it?’ Being me, there had to be more of a story, so I invented a situation which will appeal to anyone who likes a bit of older/younger, age-gap romance and heat, and made it something of a fantasy. A sexual one rather than one with mythical creatures.

An older man has carte blanche to mentor four (18+) younger guys in their creative and sexual skills. That’s the story, and there’s a little romance in there too. It’s the hottest of the four Mentor books for sure, and a crossover from my writing of erotica to more mainstream gay lit.

The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge

This came next, and for inspiration, I drew on a place and activity I knew well in my younger days. A remote Yorkshire Fell, and mountaineering. This book is more romance mixed with adventure, which is something I do a lot, and although there is a slow build to the heat, the heat is not a major part of the book. It’s about dealing with loss, accepting someone new, and there’s a fair amount of mountain rescue, enforced isolation, and a little bit of a villain Vs hero thrill line.

For a reason I’ve never discovered, Barrenmoor Ridge really took off when first published. Its success boosted me to carry on as Jackson and write more, and from that initial publicity came my proofreader, with whom I still work today. Barrenmoor is on my list of top-ten best-selling books, only surpassed by the first four Clearwater books and the first Larkspur novel.

The Mentor of Lonemarsh House

Again, using a location known to me, I set the third book down in Kent, near where I used to live. I was back in the village a couple of years ago, catching up with an old school friend (and illicit teen affair way back when), and not much had changed. The pub, the local church, the farming community, it was all still there and reminded me of my lonely days on the marsh wandering the lanes hoping Mr Right would appear around the next corner. Lonemarsh explores the idea of the younger person being trapped in a small world and needing an escape. When the love interest arrives, though, Jason, the younger of the pair, finds it hard to accept that love with another man is possible.

You might have noticed the similarity in titles. I’ll break them down to make it obvious: Wild Hill Farm. Barren Moor Ridge. Lone Marsh House. Lost Wood Hall.

Adjective suggesting isolation; remote landscape; a setting. All the Mentor books are set in such surroundings.

The Mentor of Lostwood Hall

By now, I was running out of ideas for titles and situations and thought that a fourth book would be the last. You can have too much of a good thing after all. Lostwood is set in Wales, there’s a storm, a lonely man, an isolated old hall, a younger lad on the run from villains, an accident… It has all the classic hallmarks of a Mentor novel, including other characters of dubious sexuality, some humour, and a slow burn to the heat sections, of which, if I remember correctly, there are a couple. I like to think my writing skills and experience had developed, though I am sure there are still many edits I could make if I returned to this novel for a re-edit, as I have recently done with Barrenmoor.

It’s interesting to note that here we have: a rich man and a down and out, villains, a remote castle, a mystery… All aspects which would later form the basis of the Clearwater Mysteries, undoubtedly my best-selling series. Perhaps this is where it all began?

The Students of Barrenmoor Ridge

Two years after The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge, when I was halfway through writing the Clearwater series, I suddenly had this idea to do a follow-on from Barrenmoor; to return and see how Gary and John were doing a few years later. Along came the Students… Two 18-year-old best friends are away to celebrate a birthday with a camping trip, and one intends to come out to his friend. Disaster ensues, and who should rescue them but John Hamilton and Gary from the earlier book? Back at Barrenmoor Ridge, Gary and John then end up mentoring the younger couple as they deal with their coming out and change in friendship.

This book has one of my favourite lines made comedic by the situation. It’s something like: ‘We’re hanging eighty feet off the edge of a cliff, and you ask me this now?’

You’ll have to read it to understand why.

Free for Pride – The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge

So, just a reminder that the Kindle is free for today only. I have recently re-edited it to make minor improvements, so if you’ve already bought a copy, you can have this updated version for free, on me. So, follow the link, and look out for the giveaway. If you feel like it, please also share this page, the book’s page, and this news in any social media group you might belong to. Thanks!

Back on Wednesday with an update on the next novel.

Click the banner for my full collection

Return to Barrenmoor Ridge

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

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

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

The ‘Barrenmoor Ridge’ blurb begins thus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagination is more important than Knowledge: Discuss.

“Imagination is more important than Knowledge.”

So said Albert Einstein, thus inspiring today’s blog, a continuation from last week’s blog, which was about researching the taxi driver’s ‘knowledge.’

In that case, ‘knowledge’ was the thing London cabbies need before they can start transporting passengers around the metropolis. In Einstein’s case,

‘knowledge’ meant learning, what facts we have accumulated and, literally, what we know.

So, what he’s saying is pretty clear:

it’s more important to imagine than it is to know.

Thinking that, reminded me of the old adage, ‘Write about what you know.’ How many times have I heard that? I remember being told it at school when we had to write essays and short stories for English classes. However, I also remember when I was first inspired to write creatively, and here’s a little story that, unless I lose my train of thought, will point up the idea of creativity and imagination being more important than knowledge.

Soon to be Twelve, Never Been to Egypt

Picture it…

I am sitting in the library of an independent school in Folkestone, Kent. The wall opposite is filled with books, my best friend is sharing the table with me, and there’s a man with a beard facing us and the rest of the small class of uniformed pupils. It’s March 1975, and I am a few days away from being twelve years old. A few days ago, the television news carried the appalling story of a tube strain disaster at Moorgate station in London, where 43 people died because the train failed to stop and drove into a wall at speed. Not exactly the subject for a discussion during an English lesson with Mr Whitney, housemaster, historian and all-round inspirer of pupils. After a discussion about the train crash, our homework was to write a short story inspired by the event, which you might think was a little unusual or bad taste, but that’s the British public school system for you.

So, off I went after school, walking up the road to the bus stop with John (the best friend), discussing not English homework, but Hammer Horror films, because he collected the magazines, and we both liked the films, and having said goodbye, I continued to the bus stop and went home to write my short story.

Flashback: 1972, I am nine years old and in a long queue, eventually entering a huge building, walking through echoing halls and into dark chambers to wonder at the gold funeral mask of a pharaoh, Tutankhamun, and other treasures. Flash forward a couple of years, and I am watching one of the Universal ‘Mummy’ films, Boris Karloff or Lon Chaney Jr., it doesn’t matter which, I am fascinated by pyramids, Egyptian tombs and things buried underground.

Flash back to the story, and I am sitting down to write my homework based on the tube disaster. Of course, I didn’t know what it was like to be involved, I’m not even sure I’d been on a tube train by then, so all I had to go on were the images I’d seen on TV and my imagination. Oh, and my interest in Egyptology, such as it was at 11 years old.

My story, presented at the next English lesson, concerned a team of archaeologists investigating a pyramid, when that pyramid collapsed. All I remember of it were limbs sticking out from beneath rocks, dust, darkness, screams and other horror elements, and the ending; a man in a hospital bed where instead of flowers in the vase, there were the same dead arms and legs. I also remember the praise I received after its presentation in class. Mr Whitney singled it out because it had a beginning, a middle and an end, and told the whole class he’d chosen it for singular praise because I ‘Didn’t once mention a blessed train, like the rest of you. Imagination! It is far more useful than knowledge.’ Or something very similar. He then, rather annoyingly for an 11-year-old, told me it needed improvement, and I was to write it out again in my best handwriting, but not to copy it. What he did was tell me to write a second draft, thus teaching me the pain and value of editing.

The point of that story was simply to highlight the title of this piece, that you don’t always need knowledge to write creatively, and to be truly creative, imagination is more important than knowledge.

Now hang on a minute We can take the opposite view with no hassle whatsoever and be perfectly pedantic by saying: You need to know how to write. Ah ha! See, that’s knowledge. Yes, and quite right. Except, as far as we know, Homer never wrote a word, he spoke his stories, as that was the only way to pass them down back then. He didn’t need to know how to write, he needed to know how to tell a story, but storytelling is in all of us, whether it comes out in the written word or spoken, in art, journalism, comic books or gossip; we all have the ability to tell a story.

Yes, but… I know what you’re going to say. How can you write about something you know nothing about? How can you write a story set somewhere you have never been, or about something you have never experienced, or have no knowledge of?

Yeah, yeah, blah-di-blah… Tell me, dear sceptic, how many times did Shakespeare visit Italy to research his Merchant of Venice or any of the other 13 plays he set in the country? Did Bernard Cornwell OBE fight against Napoleon, or live among the Anglo Saxons of the Dark Ages? I think not. Yes, writers research, and some who write historical novels are learned historians, but they’ve still never been back in time, and let’s not mention Azimov or Arthur C Clarke, and others who write science fiction, fantasy or steampunk. Come to that, Bram Stoker never went to Transylvania or, as far as anyone knows, got bitten by a vampire or had his head chopped off.

Write about what you know, and if you don’t know about it, research. That would be a better maxim, in my book.

Ideas are the Seed of all Achievement

I found that delicious quote, from journalist, Anastasia Haralabidou, in an article titled ‘Great Ideas: Is imagination more important than knowledge?’ (2015, you can find it here.)  In her article, she points out how imagination has inspired knowledge. Example: an apple falling from a tree and narrowly missing Isaac Newton… Why did it do that? How come it fell and didn’t float away? And there we have gravity.

It’s a case of saying ‘What if?’ and then following the what if to a conclusion, and to do that, you need to use imagination, not knowledge. If you don’t have the knowledge, you can gain it, if you don’t have the imagination, well, frankly, you’re scuppered. As Haralabidou also says in her article,

“Imagination is the highest freedom of all and the one that no one can deprive us of.”

How good is that? We all have an imagination, it is as inherent as storytelling, and you don’t need knowledge to release it, you only need to know that you can, and we all can. Some with more success than others, I grant you, but it is within us all to tell stories, and if those stories are set in a time or place about which we know nothing, then, like a soon to be 12-year-old transposing what he’d seen on the news to the pyramids of Giza, we research what we must, and imagine the rest.

This all reminds me of another saying I heard once many years ago which has always stuck with me. Prevention is better than knowing who did it. That, I fancy, might be the title of a future blog.

Learning the Knowledge for a New Series

If you read my Wednesday work-in-progress blog, you will know I have embarked on a new series, currently titled ‘New Series’ in one folder, and ‘Victorian Series’ in another. So far, I have written four chapters in draft one, a rough outline, some character notes, and some research notes.

Part of my research has been around cab drivers because one of the two main characters is a young cabman, and that led me to a couple of books, a few websites, and a coincidence.

The Knowledge

When London cabbies train for the job, they spend on average two years learning ‘the knowledge.’ That’s the layout of all 25,000 or more London streets in a six-mile radius from central London, roughly.

If you’ve ever taken a black cab, as we call them nowadays (though they are not always black), you’ll feel assured that once you step in and say, ‘471 Kingsland Road,’ the driver will say, ‘Righty-o, Guv,’ and off you go. You can give as obscure an address as you fancy and, the chances are, your driver will know where it is because he’s got ‘the knowledge.’

When this term came into use, I am not sure, but then, I’ve not completed my research yet.

My ordered book has arrived, ‘The History of the London Horse Cab’, and I’ve read the introduction, but there’s a long way to go yet, so my knowledge of cab work and ‘the knowledge’ currently equates to knowing only about five streets out of the 25,000 or more.

I’ve also been looking at various collections of writings from Victorian times that I’ve found on websites, including my favourite, The Dictionary of Victorian London, compiled by Lee Jackson.

A Coincidence

While looking around for various resources, I came across a Facebook page dedicated to a book, ‘Carter the Cabman.’ After a little investigation, I discovered that this book was available on Kindle, so I downloaded a copy and set to reading, out of interest.

It turns out to be a novel, presenting in a nicely clever way, a collection of papers discovered in an antique shop in 1988, and those papers were written by a cabman called Carter in 1888, at the time of Jack the Ripper. That’s as far as I have got with my reading as I only bought it yesterday, but already, I feel a weird sense of coincidence. My Clearwater Mysteries series begins in 1888 at the time of the Ripper (though it’s not Jack), and my new series is not only about a cab driver, but is also set in 1888, though the Ripper murders are not part of the plot this time. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of ‘Carter’ and perhaps asking the author if he’d like to appear here in a guest post. (Though I’m not sure how to tell him that the word ‘weekend’ didn’t come into usage until after 1912, so his cabman author of 1888 would not have used it… but that’s me being pedantic.)

More About ‘New Victorian Series’

My notes are vague in places, and detailed in others. I have in mind a set of investigations that my two main characters will undertake, but unlike the Clearwater and Larkspur mysteries, these will involve a different investigative style. Clearwater and Larkspur use a lot of unlikely but not impossible scenarios, and inventions of the time or just before the time, such as vanishing and reappearing ink, telegraph printers, and glow-in-the-dark paint. The new series will, if all goes according to plan, focus on real issues of the time and how my two MCs put things right. A little like ‘Guardians of the Poor’, where our heroes uncover corruption at the Hackney workhouse. I have in my list of ideas notes such as:

  • Slum landlords Vs paupers,
  • The Thames Murders (cold case),
  • Mediums,
  • Quacks,
  • Lunatic asylum, and
  • ‘gay’ cases.

The latter one is also a hark back to Larkspur, where the initial idea was to base characters and stories on actual events, which I did all the way through: Dalston Blaze and the workhouse scandal, for example, or Edward Hyde’s incident on the train and the court case with that nasty Tory MP. But don’t think this new series is going to be all special investigation and doing the right thing, and don’t think it will be a repeat of issues and events from the other two series.

So far, I know that it is going to involve the following:

  • Clues
  • villains
  • adventure
  • A slow-burn romance over a couple of books
  • A character with an undefined ‘problem’ who will turn out to be a genius (at something)
  • Brotherly love
  • Bromance and MM romance (of course)
  • Falling in love, falling out of love, blah-di-blah
  • Humour
  • Real places and events

That’s where I am with ‘New Victorian Series’ right now, researching and learning more knowledge about life in Victorian Britain, especially London, around the end of the 19th century. It all starts with a journalist discovering a handsome young cabman in tears late at night on August 17th 1888. Why is he crying? That’s what you will one day find out.

Work In Progress: 5.16

The end of the line.

This morning, I received the final layout files from Other Worlds Ink, so The Larkspur Legacy is ready to go. Only three more days and I will upload it to Amazon, and the Kindle version should then go live on Saturday night/Sunday morning (GMT + 2).

Before that, you can find out more about OtherWorldsInk and their services, because we’re arranging a chat with them for Saturday’s blog. They arrange blog tours and publicity, do book formatting and cover design and are a great help to me. I’ve used them since ‘Negative Exposure’, and now no longer have to spend hours setting out my pages and doing the best I can, because they do it for me. More about that on Saturday.

As for the next work in progress,

I have already begun on The Clearwater Companion by gathering my notes, cuts, excerpts, images, and other ideas. Right now, I am typing up the notes from my bible (series notebook). We may not use all of them, but as long as I have them all in one digital place, I’ll be able to work with them much more easily. It’s a pretty thankless task, but a couple of hours a day and I should have both large notebooks transcribed in a month, and I can then set about seeing what’s what.

Meanwhile, look out for The Larkspur Legacy, the series finale to the Larkspur and Clearwater books. You should be able to get it from Kindle on Sunday (the print version may take a day or two longer to appear).