Speaking in Silence

The Larkspur Mysteries Book Five

I have the cover and the details uploaded, and should be finalising the internal files over the weekend. This means you should be able to find ‘Speaking in Silence’ any day now. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll no doubt receive a notification from Amazon and know the book is available before I do. Meanwhile, at the bottom of this post is the cover reveal. Click the image to open the full cover.

Who is it?

The problem with discussing any new release is that I don’t want to give away any spoilers or tell you what the story is because I don’t want to ruin the journey for you. However, you will meet the character while you’re reading the book, and all I will tell you is that he is our protagonist. Everything that happens does so because of him. Things also happen because of the antagonist who is after his own reward, but he’s slimy and horrible, so I didn’t want to put him on the front cover.

Speaking in Silence is a slightly unusual story for me in that it’s not exactly a mystery. It is, but the mystery is ‘How will they do that?’ and, later, ‘How did they do that?’ It’s one of only a few novels I have written with a classic drawing room denouement, as I discussed in a post the other week.

The fun thing for me was holding back what I and the characters knew, and not giving things away to you, the reader, too soon. I could have done that, and then there would have been one tension point at a particular place in the story, but that would have been it. This time, I decided to keep you wondering until after the event—the climax—and I hope it works.

‘Starting with Secrets’

With ‘Speaking in Silence’ written, I was able to turn my mind to the next book, ‘Starting with Secrets,’ and the one after that, ‘The Larkspur Legacy.’ What I am embarking on now is a two-part mystery that leads to what could be the end of the series. Having said that, I am sure the Clearwater world will live on after the Larkspur collection. I just haven’t decided how. Yet.

From Wednesday, on my work-in-progress blog, I will set the counter back to week one, though I have been working on ‘Secrets’ for the past several days already. I have been devising clues because the next novel is all about solving obscure clues while chasing down a secret ‘treasure’ that will secure the Clearwater future. (Again, I can’t say too much.) There will be a new character or two, and many of the established Clearwater and Larkspur characters will be involved.

Here’s an opportunity that’s just occurred to me—I’ll discuss it with Jenine when I can, but I’ll drop it in here now, so I don’t forget.

I was thinking I might ask readers and followers on my Facebook page to tell me who is their favourite character from either series. I can then make sure those characters appear in the next two books. There is such a cast now, that my spreadsheet of characters is bulging, and I am running out of names. (I realised the other day that I had an Archer and an Arthur, and when they appear in the same scene, I have to call Arthur a footman or Art, so readers don’t get confused between the two.) Keep an eye on my FB page and I’ll put up a post (if I remember) asking for suggestions.

Which characters would you like to appear in the next two instalments? Who’s your favourite? Perhaps then I’ll draw a random name and send off a signed copy of ‘Starting with Secrets’ when it’s out.

Speaking in Silence Cover Reveal

But I mustn’t get ahead of myself and forget that Speaking in Silence is out next week. Tune in to Wednesday’s WIP to start the adventure of writing the next novel, and before that, look out for the ‘Silence’ release.

Now you can click the image to see the full front cover open in a new window.

Work In Progress 3.11

Speaking in Silence

You may remember my to-do list last week looked like this:

  •     Finish the fine editing
  •     Reread for a final check
  •     Create the blurb
  •     Find images suitable to make a cover and open negotiations with Andjela
  •     Proofreading
  •     Layout
  •     Check everything and reread
  •     Upload to Amazon
  •     Hope for the best

I’m happy to tell you, I have completed the first four things on the list ✔✔✔✔, though I haven’t finalised the blurb yet. Neil has read my edited draft, and I have a little editing to do on the last chapter, which I will do in a moment. Andjela and I have the licence for a photo to be adapted for the front cover, and there will be a reveal of that nearer the release date, which is still estimated at the first week of August.

Check in next week for an update. Meanwhile, here’s the draft blurb.

Speaking in Silence

The Larkspur Mysteries Book Five

Jackson Marsh

“The quiet ones have the loudest voice. Them as say most by speaking in silence.”

Fiona Hawkins, 1881

March 1891. A parliamentary committee arrives at Larkspur Hall to assess Lord Clearwater’s suitability to become the Earl of Cornwall. Prince Albert Victor will announce their decision at a society dinner on Archer’s thirty-second birthday.

However, the MP with the authority to advance Archer to the title is the same man who caused Edward Hyde never to speak again. When the parliamentarians arrive to inspect the Larkspur Academy, Edward comes face to face with the man he had arrested for making unnatural advances. A man who was never tried for his crime.

Silas Hawkins and the academy men band together to ensure Edward sees justice done while protecting Lord Clearwater’s reputation and each other. Using their skills in chemistry, physics and deception, they embark on a game of secrets and subterfuge where the unspoken causes the loudest outcry.


Speaking in Silence is the fifth book in the Larkspur Mysteries series, and touches on themes of victimisation and suicide. Like all books in the series, it is inspired by actual events from the late 1800s. With themes of friendship, bromance, male love and revenge, the story is more of a ‘how dunnit?’ than a ‘who dunnit?’ and like all of Jackson’s mysteries, contains humour, while mixing fact with fiction.

Disability Pride Month: Joe Tanner

Disability Pride Month occurs in July “to listen to what the voices of disabled people have to say about their rights and what they need“.

The month was chosen to recognise that, the then President of the United States, George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law on July 26, 1990. (Wiki)

As this month is Disability Pride Month, I thought I’d write a short piece about my “disabled” character, Joe Tanner. I put the disabled in “ ” because Joe wouldn’t have seen himself as disabled. He’s deaf and has been since birth, and yes, that’s a disability, but all the same, he wouldn’t (or doesn’t) consider himself disabled.

These days, it’s difficult to write about how Joe was treated because the language of that time is now considered offensive, but we shouldn’t take offence at history, because there’s nothing we can do to change it; it is how it was. Being deaf in the late 19th century wasn’t easy, and although there had been schools for the deaf since the 18th century, they were small, private and expensive. Also, sign language was outlawed in 1880 and was discouraged as taught communication for 100 years. When Joe Tanner was born in 1871, his parents didn’t know what to make of him. Although his father was a vicar, he had a very short fuse, and Joe’s early life wasn’t pleasant. Frustrated that their son couldn’t communicate, Joe’s parents left him at the Hackney Workhouse and buggered off to America. Joe was about seven at this time, and was immediately put on the ‘idiots ward.’

This is where you mustn’t take offence to the language.

According to the glossary on Peter Higginbotham’s marvellous site www.workhouses.org:

Idiots and Imbeciles were two commonly used categories of mental subnormality.

Definitions varied over the years, but in broad terms:

Idiots, the most deficient, were unable to protect themselves against basic physical dangers.

Imbeciles, a less severely deficient group, were unable to protect themselves against moral and mental dangers.

It’s also likely that many deaf people entering a workhouse would have ended up in the hospital wards or sent to an asylum. In Joe’s case, he should have been sent to a school, which probably would have done him no good anyway, but he was lucky. Not only did he have an understanding workhouse matron, but he also met Dalston Blaze.

Here are some extracts from the chapter in ‘Guardians of the Poor’ where Dalston meets Joe for the first time. Joe was seven, Dalston six, and Mrs Lee was the workhouse matron.

The matron demanded to know what was happening, and a grubber said the boy had refused to stay on the idiots’ ward, and they were trying to get him back there. Dalston knew of the idiots’ ward, and of the one on the floor above, which was for the imbeciles, but he wasn’t allowed up there. Even if he was, he wouldn’t have gone, the noises and screaming were too frightening.

As the matron tore the grubbers down a peg, Dalston crept closer and stood facing the boy. Without knowing why, he knew that what was happening was wrong. If a boy misbehaved, he missed a meal, everyone knew that, and perhaps, he thought, this lad has been naughty. It wasn’t uncommon for the schoolteacher to whack a boy’s arse for misbehaving, but if this lad had just suffered that, he wouldn’t have been able to sit.

Mrs Lee tried to talk to him, but he balled himself tighter, and in the end, she told the grubbers to go about their business, and leave the lad alone.

Dalston, intrigued by the boy, stays with him when the staff give up, and the two start to communicate. Their language begins with drawings and moves on to finger and hand signs. In the story, Dalston (who is hearing) and Joe do what many deaf people did; they invented their own language. Although British Sign Language (BSL), as we now call it, was abandoned in schools in 1880, many deaf people continued to use it in their own groups, homes and meeting places. That’s why there are now so many regional variations in BSL.

Dalston and Joe go on to appear in all of the Larkspur Mysteries either as main characters or supporting cast, so I have been able to explore Joe’s character more as the series goes on. I thought it was important that Joe didn’t end up as a ‘feel sorry for’ character; I didn’t want him to be the one being looked after or treated in any way differently to the other characters. He’s a gay, young man in Victorian times like all the others around him, except he can’t hear. He can communicate, but not everyone can return the communication, not with sign language at any rate. However, other characters are learning some of it, they can always write things down, and none of them treats Joe as inferior. He is, after all, an excellent and natural horseman, he drives the carriages, and he studies archaeology while solving old murder cases.

With Joe, I wanted to show a disabled character in the same way as I show my others. Therefore, he’s not always fun and happiness, he has flaws, he gets frustrated, and he has a temper. He and Dalston’s first year together out of the workhouse (aged 19 and 18 by then) was not always an easy one, and like any young couple, they had relationship problems – none of which were due to Joe’s deafness. Joe’s also got a naughty sense of humour, and uses his sign language to his advantage, talking about people without them knowing what he is saying.

Book five of the Larkspur series, ‘Speaking in Silence’ also concerns a young man with a disability, though it’s not a physical one. Because of something that happened in his past, Edward Hyde has chosen not to speak more than one or two words to anyone (apart from his one friend). It’s his way of withdrawing from the world because of an incident that left him contemplating suicide. So, his disability is, you might say, an emotional one, but it is one he can be ‘cured’ of. That’s what the book is about, getting Edward’s voice back – although emotional recovery from his trauma will continue long after the story has finished.

For both these characters, Joe Tanner and Edward Hyde, I wanted to present my differently-abled characters as positive, non-victims (although Edward was) and to make them as good/bad, nice/nasty, grateful/churlish as all the others. Hopefully, they both present positive images of deaf or emotionally scarred people, and we see them do heroic things that we all wish we had the courage to do.

However readers take them, what they do in the books makes me proud, and that’s my way of wrapping up this post about my ‘disabled’ characters for Disability Pride Month.

Speaking in Silence is due out at the beginning of August

The Larkspur Series begins with Guardians of the Poor’ and it’s Joe you see on the cover signing the word ‘deaf.’

Work In Progress 3.10

Speaking in Silence

We’re into week ten of the writing of this new Larkspur Mystery and I am pleased to tell you, I have only eight chapters left to edit before I can say I have a draft for my beta readers, Neil and Jenine. The MS is booked in for proofreading on the 20th of July, and I am still aiming for the end of July/start of August to have the finished novel ready for you.

My to-do list now looks like this:

  • Finish the fine editing
  • Reread for a final check
  • Create the blurb
  • Find images suitable to make a cover and open negotiations with Andjela
  • Proofreading
  • Layout
  • Check everything and reread
  • Upload to Amazon
  • Hope for the best

While all that is going on, you won’t be surprised to learn that I have started thinking about the next book. The next two books, actually, because I am planning a two-book finale to this series along the lines of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’ I am teeming with ideas, and have already outlined various scenes in my head, but I must find a way to connect them. All I can tell you right now is that I am planning to incorporate many of the characters from both Clearwater and Larkspur, have three or four storylines running at once all leading to the same end, so all will be connected, take my characters to some wild and exciting places, and tie up many threads. Some of these threads were started in Deviant Desire, and before that, Banyak & Fecks, so I have lots of rereading and remembering to do (thankfully, I keep my ‘bible’ and notebooks). There is also a special ending to consider, and all being well, you’ll be able to read the second book of the two at or by Christmas.

Watch this space.

Thank goodness for my author notebooks and ‘bible’!

Doing Your Denouement

I have just written the denouement for ‘Speaking In Silence’, and it’s prompted me to talk about the subject and what I learnt from the process of writing the novel.

All my novels tie up at the end, but they don’t always come with a classic denouement. The closest I came was in ‘Unspeakable Acts’, the third Clearwater novel, where James Wright explains the villain’s motivation and method. ‘Speaking In Silence’ is slightly different to other mysteries I’ve written because it’s more of a ‘What are they doing?’ mystery for the reader, who won’t know what until the climax, and won’t know how until the last scene, the denouement.

What is a Denouement?

The word is borrowed from the French and originates in Latin, as this snippet from Etymonline tells us:

1752, from French dénouement “an untying” (of plot), from dénouer “untie” (Old French desnouer) from des- “un-, out” + nouer “to tie, knot,” from Latin nodus “a knot,” from PIE root *ned- “to bind, tie.”

[PIE = The roots of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language are basic parts of words that carry a lexical meaning, so-called morphemes.]

In other words, denouement means to untie a knot. In literary terms, it means the final part of a play, film, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved. Or, as the dictionary also states: the outcome of a situation, when something is decided or made clear.

In other-other words, it’s that bit at the end of an Agatha Christie when Poirot stands in the drawing room and tells the assembled characters who did it and how. Of course, the technique is used in all forms of literature and creative writing, and doesn’t have to pertain to a crime story. The denouement of Romeo and Juliet happens after the two main characters are dead, for example, even though we all saw how they died.

What to Consider When Writing a Denouement

The following is based on my experience. There are plenty of free writing-advice websites that will give their own views, but having just looked at a few, they are very similar to what I worked out for myself.

Keep notes as you write towards the end

First of all, as I wrote my way through the first draft of Speaking In Silence, I made a note every time a character was seen to do something with no explanation; every time I dropped in a question mark for the reader if you like. This was to make sure I didn’t leave any knots still tied at the end. I do this with every novel, and it’s a good way to avoid the trap of ‘I’ll remember that for sure’, only to say later, ‘What was it I had to remember?’

The notes also help me see if I have given too much away to the reader, and if I need to take out anything too obvious. Thinking about ‘Silence’, I’m worried the reader will catch on to what’s happening well before the end, and so the climax won’t be a surprise. (It doesn’t have to be. I’ve found readers are as happy to say, ‘I didn’t see that coming’ as they are to have proved themselves right.)

Don’t Witter on for too Long

Says he… My denouement happens in dialogue, and I’m not sure if that’s the done thing or not, but it’s what I have done. The chapter is currently 4,000 words long, but it’s not all explanation. Some of it is character thoughts, reactions and other story matters, and the explanation of how they did it comes from four characters, not one, so there is more than one voice, and more than one point of view. They are explaining themselves to Lord Clearwater, so we are in his head, and when I felt the others were being too detailed, I had him slow them down because I imagined that’s what the reader would also be thinking.

Beware Repeats

I was conscious of not repeating what the reader already knew. They would have seen X do this and that, and the idea of the denouement isn’t to go back and relive the action, it’s to explain the reason for the action. Yes, you have to place the explanation in context, but that can be done in a few words. Also, once something has been explained, there’s no need to repeat the explanation from another character’s point of view. In my scene, with four people untying the knots, I made sure they all contributed, but they only contributed something new or added a detail that cleared up another question mark.

Show Not Tell

That old chestnut again. Think about that Agatha Christie scene when Poirot has everyone in the drawing room, the dining car or wherever, and you’ll see he does a lot of talking. Now think film, and you’ll notice there are flashbacks showing the action. That’s one way of giving the explanation, but it’s a filmic one. The way to present a ‘show’ denouement is to write a scene where the action unknots the rope, rather than dialogue doing it for you. It’s not easy, and in my opinion, some stories require a dialogue explanation. If I had written the ‘how they did it’ into the action during the book, there would be no deepening mystery. If I had written the ‘how they did it’ into the climax, it would have cluttered up the pace. The only way I could make it work in ‘Silence’ was to have the four characters tell Clearwater — who knows what they have done — exactly how they did it.

Keep to the Rules

Although it’s right at the end of the book, my denouement still keeps to the rules of character arc and development, scene structure, location, description and pace. It’s not just one long dialogue of this-then-that. There is some character-created humour, we come away with the sense that a particular character has changed, and we know where we are (Clearwater’s drawing room with the footman coming and going). As well as all that, the scene ends with a great big question mark which will lead us into the next instalment. Not exactly a cliff-hanger because the reader knows the answer to the question, but the characters don’t.

Other Advice Answered

I pulled a few random tips of denouement writing off the internet. I’ve justified my ending against them.

Keep it short. Each part of my explanation is short, but there are a lot of things to explain, and that, I did on purpose.

The denouement validates the story. I always aim for this (see the end of ‘Fallen Splendour’ for my favourite story validation). The denouement validates what has changed for a character or a situation.

Convey a new normal. I have left the reader knowing a particular character will now be better off, and one will be worse off. That is their new normal.

Characters’ futures. Similar to the new normal; the conflicts have been resolved, and normalcy returns to the characters, although that normalcy might/should be changed. I’ve also put in a question mark, and the denouement is followed by a short epilogue which takes us towards the next story.

Epilogue Vs Denouement This is summarised very nicely at this page from masterclass.com:

Denouement is an essential conclusion to plotted conflict, while the epilogue is an optional afterward in which the author shows readers how characters have fared after the events chronicled in the work.

In ‘Speaking In Silence’, the epilogue concerns the villain and leads us into the next story. I now have a completed first draft and can set about rewriting the whole thing and improving it, all the while, aiming towards that all important denouement.

‘Speaking in Silence’ should be ready by July, and you can keep up to date with its progress on my weekly Wednesday WIP blog.

Work In Progress 3.07

Speaking in Silence is now arriving at Exeter.

If you have been following the ‘Speaking in Silence’ journey from London Paddington to Bodmin, you will know that it’s been an interesting train ride so far. In the word count scheme of things, I’d say I was now at Exeter, being at roughly 72,000 words, with the destination being 100,000 or thereabouts. After some shunting around in a yard several miles back, I have had a clear run from Bristol, and am now approaching the final reel. The final ‘act’ as they say in film terms.

I started the ‘Speaking in Silence’ journey knowing that I wanted it to be about two characters who appeared in the last book, but who we don’t yet know; Henry Hope and Edward Hyde. In this story, Edward is the protagonist, and yet, not only does he hardly speak, he also hardly communicates. That poses a few challenges for the author. Unlike Joe Tanner, who is deaf and communicates through sign language, Edward has taken a vow of semi-silence. The only person he speaks to is Henry, and Henry knows why. We, the reader, come to learn why Edward chose to do this, and we come to understand there is only one thing that will enable him to feel able to speak again. Justice. Therein lies the plot of the novel.

That was what I started with 72,000 words ago, and the rest I have, quite literally, made up as I have gone along, including the characters of Henry and Edward and a hell of a lot of backstory, which trickles out over time. I have used the flashback technique, and it was only while writing those scenes that I came to know the characters. They introduced themselves to me while Henry was telling me his and Edward’s story if you like, and that didn’t happen until I was quite a way into the story. That’s why we had the shunting around a few miles back, and I had to backtrack and change the point of view of some of the earlier chapters. If there’s a lesson there, it’s ‘know your characters before you start’. (A note to fellow authors, if you would like to stretch your character’s bio then you can always drop in for a ‘character interview’. Contact my PA for more details jeninesymi@gmail.com).

To give you a flavour of the novel, and without giving anything away, here’s a short excerpt from the first draft – unedited so excuse any errors. The skeleton is a character who will remain nameless for now, and I have changed the name of the second character to ‘John’ so as not to spoil things for you. John, the villain, is going to see the other villain at his new lodgings in Greychurch:  


The skeleton’s previous lodgings above the ‘Princess Alice‘ had, John thought, been about as low as a man could go, but when he took a deep breath and entered the ‘Hops and…’ as the broken sign described it, he realised he had been wrong.

His foot fell on a rat, but it didn’t squeal because it was dead, but the child playing with it gave him a mouth of abuse, which he ignored. Dishevelled heaps, rather than people, sat at the few tables, some sucking on pipes whose fumes hardly disguised the stench of damp clothes, sweat and something else he didn’t like to think about, while across the room, no more than ten feet from the door, two men stood at a trestle table that served as a bar, while three rested against it on the floor, either drunk or dead. The most unnerving thing about the place, however, wasn’t the landlord with wooden teeth, only one eye and one hand, nor even the miasma of fire, pipe and opium smoke, but the silence. No-one even looked at him, no-one jereed at a well-dressed man from the west of the city entering their destitute realm, and nobody, apart from the child, made a sound.

These people, if he could call them that, might still be able to hear, he thought, and so he prepared to whisper to the disfigured landlord. As he leant over one of those asleep at his feet a movement to his right caught his eye. One of the heaps unwound itself from the table it had been slumped across and dragged itself to its feet. It said nothing, but a skeletal hand emerged from the sleeve of its black gown and beckoned to John like death, before gliding towards a door beside the makeshift bar.

Pleased to be with someone he knew, albeit vaguely and nefariously, John followed the skeleton through to a passage, and down a set of steps to a cellar. Ahead, the scurry of clawed feet suggested their path was clear, but still, when they arrived below ground, several pairs of pink eyes glinted in the candlelight, watching from the crevices for the time they could reclaim their dominion.


The Princess Alice pub was one of the pubs frequented by prostitutes in the East End of London at the time of the Ripper crimes

More on my WIP blog next Wednesday, but don’t forget to be here on Saturday for my other weekly post.

The Author’s Bible

Or, in my case, two bibles, and we’re not talking religious texts. We’re talking about notebooks. Today, I thought I’d take you through my author’s bible. In other words, how I keep track of characters, places, descriptions and facts when writing a long and ongoing series. The photos show my two main notebooks, with brief explanations as to what you are looking at.

In the Beginning…

I have a chest in which I keep my original notes. I started this collection about two years BC (that’s Before Clearwater), and the papers are now yellowing, and the writing is fading. I used to make notes about the stories I was writing on pieces of scrap A4 paper, usually the backs of drafts I’d had printed, and among them is a list of most commonly mistyped words. I use that to check the full manuscript when I reach the end of a draft; words like form and from, for example. But these notes are not my author’s bible, that is a leather-bound, blank page notebook Neil bought me for Christmas 2018, and just after I’d written ‘Curious Moonlight’, I decided to start keeping my story thoughts in it. The first few pages concern a Gormenghast type story I was thinking of writing, and the only thing not now crossed out is a list of names: Anthem, the choirmaster, Pook, a serving boy, Tripp, a footman, and Archie with no job, but whose name means ‘genuine and bold.’

The beginning. As you can see, the Clearwater Series started in January 2019, and the first book was originally titled Deviant Lamplight, then Deviant Devotion and finally, Deviant Desire because the other two ideas were, frankly, terrible.

And therein lies the beginning of the Clearwater Mysteries. ‘A brethren of seven…’ was among my first notes, and I carried that idea over to the Clearwater crew: Archer, Silas, Fecker, James, Thomas… Well, a brethren of five that later becomes seven with Jasper and Billy, and then eight with Mrs Norwood, and so on until I now have a cast of thousands.

So, with 11 Clearwater books and, now, four Larkspur novels, how do I keep track of the details, and why?

Why is Easy

If you read a book and the character has blue eyes in chapter one, but brown eyes in chapter ten… If Larkspur Hall was in Bodmin one moment, and near Bodmin the next, or if Silas’ mother came from Dublin in one book and somewhere else in another… You see where I am going with this? It’s easy, as an author, to think I’ll remember that, and not write things down. Later, say two or three full novels later, you think, Ah yes, I remember I had to remember that, but what was it…? And then, you spend half a day searching your copy of the novel you thought the fact was in, only not to find it, and end up rewriting your section to avoid having to mention the important fact.

Keeping concise but accurate notes about the world you are inventing is safer all-round, even though you think, It’s my world, I won’t forget that.

You will.

How is Another Matter

Every author has their own way of keeping a record, notes, the author’s bible, as it’s commonly known. Some hire people to do it for them, to read the entire series and make notes on everything. Some people do this because they are fans, others, to earn money. I do it as I go, but I don’t do it in any structured way, by which I mean, my bible doesn’t have an index. I do, though, know roughly where to find things, and failing that, I flick through the pages.

Once I knew Deviant Desire was going to lead to a second book, I decided to use my new leather notebook to keep my facts, and started with Archer.

Archer’s notes updated over time.

These two pages contain the basics about my main character. His full name, titles, date of birth and other unchangeable facts like where and when he went to school and his physical description. Over the page, we have a double-page spread about Silas, including the date he and Archer met, and how old he is. Then comes Andrej (Fecker), Thomas, ‘East End and other characters’, minor characters not seen, other locations, a glossary, the list of murders, places and dates (from Deviant Desire), and a page of random notes.

After a blank page comes the name Sam Wright… Crossed out and replaced by Jim… Crossed out and finally replaced by James Joseph Wright, messenger, 25 years old (born Jan 10th 1863), started at post office aged 14, not 100% attractive (sorry, Jimmy), Fecker’s nickname for him Tato (daddy), and ‘James writes with a pen (book 9).’

Moving through the book, I find lists of dates as to when things happened, who works at the house next door, a page listing servants’ wages in 1888, and a rough plan of the ground floor of Clearwater House.

Clearwater House. My first attempt at a layout to help me picture how to get from one room to another, to improve consistency.

As you might have gathered by now, I keep the notes according to the book I am writing at the time. I stop now and then, usually after completing a book, to add to the previous pages and make other notes and lists about the world, not about the stories; that’s a separate matter. For the Clearwater series, I kept story notes in a separate notebook, jotting down ideas and points to answer, clues to solve and how, and story details, then later, I put the pertinent ones in the bible. If I filled the pages of the leather book with story notes, there would be so many things crossed out, it would make the book messy and even harder to read than it is.

Moving on, we next find a page outlining the characters’ skills, because, at that time, I was comparing them to superheroes – not in the stories, but in my head. So Archer was Iron Man and skilled in combat, money, and status. James (Captain America), communications, fitness, strength. Fecker (Thor), strength, loyalty, transport. Thomas (J.A.R.V.I.S.), Logic, cool head, planning… And so on.

For ‘Twisted Tracks’, I drew a map of the railway route I’d invented. Book three’s notes include a page of villains, and who was dead by then, and book four outlines who was on the board of the Clearwater Foundation. Also in the Fallen Splendour section are notes such as ‘Silas wears Curzon cologne’, and ‘Fanny… crossed out, Sarah… crossed out… Mrs Norwood, 40s, James’ old schoolteacher.’

Book five is set at Larkspur Hall, and as that was the first time we’d been there in detail, there’s a list of servants, places on the estate, ‘A patchwork of a property,’ ‘Ruined church from Dissolution’, and ‘abbey given in 1538,’ which is a worry as I am sure I’ve said it was another date in another book.

You see, even though you keep notes, you don’t always use them. I know I once messed up on the address of Clearwater House saying, in one book, it was in Bucks Avenue and then in another that it was in Bucks Row. (Bucks Row was a site of a Jack the Ripper murder.) I was able to go back and change that later, but I am sure there are other minor inconsistencies caused by ‘I remember that, no need to look it up.’

Occasionally, I paste things into the bible, such as this note, written on the back of receipt.

Romanian. Gabriel’s translation and some of my notes about pronunciation.

I was sitting at our local café one day and was joined by a Romanian friend. That was handy because I was writing ‘Bitter Bloodline’, which features a Romanian villain, and although I’d used Google translate, I wanted to be sure the most important sentence in the book was correct. Gabriel, my Romanian mate, wrote it down for me, and then I told him we were talking about Transylvania in 1889. He rewrote it, because the language would have been slightly different, and that’s what that note is all about.

What Else Should Be in the Bible?

I don’t want to bore you with details of every page of my book, but apart from those things mentioned above, it also contains pages titled:

Height, Hair & Build (brief character references)

Skills (again, but with more characters)

Archers’ family tree by three generations

Notes about Larkspur Hall

A calendar of character’s birthdays (Harvey, a minor character, June 2nd, Jasper Blackwood, 1st August, Silas, 21st October, etc.) These minor facts are useful to know and use because they add depth to stories, even if it’s only a mention.

A calendar of years of birth. Archer 1859, Thomas 1861, Fecker, probably 1865 but no-one really knows.

A rough map of the area around Clearwater House

Extended family tree for The Clearwater Inheritance

Who’s Who at Larkspur Hall, March 1890

The guest list for Archer’s 31st birthday party

Ages. Character’s ages through the years and some other major events. This makes it so much easier to remember how old people are. If you look closely, you’ll see that Fecker started renting in 1883 when he was 16, though he may have been older, and James started at the post office (PO) in 1877. You never know when such trivia will come in useful.

And so on and so on until we hit a page on which I have (badly) drawn three standing stones and the title The Larkspur Mysteries, June 2021, and underlined it in red as if it were school homework.

Two Bibles

I’m now a two-bible household. I keep the leather notebook going, and still add to previous pages, while using up more to give the same basic details of the new characters from the Larkspur Mysteries. However, when I started this second series, I decided to use a large, lined book that a friend had made for me. The cover is decorated with the titles of the books from the Clearwater Mysteries, but I am using the book as a bible/notebook for the Larkspur Series.

Big book.
Notes on the viscountcy of Larkspur from 1541 to the present day (1891), for ‘Seeing Through Shadows.’

That’s one example of how I am creating the Larkspur bible alongside the Clearwater bible. I’m not repeating facts from the first to the second, but I am adding facts from the second to relevant places in the first. I’m also using it to outline the stories, track the timeline, create character arcs, and make story notes. The Clearwater bible remains my go-to place for the basics, but now, using the larger Larkspur book, I can keep all my story notes in one, lovely to write on, set of pages and not the old trunk.

Revelations

I hope you found the above interesting. If I have a final point to make about why authors should keep a bible, it’s this:

When you create a fictional world, you are the Creator. You are omnipotent and expected to know all, see all, and care for all you have created. Unless you really are the Creator, it’s unlikely you will store every fabulous fact in your memory, so if in doubt, write it down.

Notebooks yet to be used, except for the green one which I used when writing the Saddling series as James Collins.

As for me, I have plenty more notebooks waiting to be filled…

Work In Progress 2.14

Seeing Through Shadows – Release

I’m pleased to tell you that the Larkspur Mysteries book four, Seeing Through Shadows, is now uploaded on Amazon. It should be available for you in Kindle, KU and in paperback in the next couple of days. (edit, it is now live!)

As you can see from the title of this brief post, this is week 14 in this book’s life. (The 2 refers to the fact this is my second book since starting the WIP blog, the 14 refers to the week.) Some books, they say, write themselves, and Seeing Through Shadows was one of them. I started with an idea, made some notes and did some research, as I always do, and drew a simple outline. After that, the characters took over, I kept them in line with the structure I wanted, and I was strict with myself when first-drafting, which meant less time had to be taken on the following drafts and edits. I think I’m finally getting this process down now, and once an idea has formed, it’s taking me less time to write a novel.

What’s interesting about ‘Shadows’ is that the idea came about back in 2018, before I’d even thought about the Clearwater Mysteries, let alone the Larkspur mysteries. I’d just finished writing ‘Curious Moonlight’, a kind of ghost story and first love mashup, and considered writing a sequel.

Curious Moonlight is about two guys meeting, and having their relationship hampered by a troubled and troublesome ghost called Billy. I thought it might be fun to have the three team up as spectral investigators, with Billy being ever present and always naughty. I invented a location (Blackwood Abbey), and a history of a ghostly sighting, drew a plan of the estate and mapped out the story, but never sat down to write it.

In a way, I am glad I didn’t, because Blackwood Abbey eventually became Larkspur Hall, and what I was doing back then was only planting the seed of an idea. When you read Shadows and learn the history of the Larkspur ghost, it is actually the same history of that created for the Curious Moonlight sequel that never was. The twist at the end of Shadows was to be the explanation for the Curious ghost (kind of), and the Larkspur estate is more of less what I’d made up for Curious. Confused? Never mind, it’ll become clear when you read Seeing Through Shadows.

Meanwhile, you can find Curious Moonlight here.

“He’s back. He’s angry, and I am fleeing for my life.”

Escaping bad choices, Luke Grey arrives in the Cornish fishing village of Madenly determined never to fall in love with a straight man again. But then he meets Peran Box.

Peran’s passion for investigating historical mysteries is his only escape from a loveless relationship. But then he meets Luke.

Attracted to each other’s differences, the two embark on an intense friendship which sparks hope for Luke and ignites Peran’s gay-curious feelings.

But then they meet Billy, dead for three-hundred years and determined to keep them apart until the mystery of his murder is solved.

Seeing Through Shadows

The Larkspur Mysteries Book Four

I thought it was time I told you a little more about ‘Seeing Through Shadows’, the fourth book in The Larkspur Mysteries series, the series that continues from the highly popular ‘Clearwater Mysteries.’

The previous Larkspur story, ‘Agents of the Truth’ concluded on 31st October, 1890, and ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ is set in January 1891.

However, October 31st was an important date for its main character, an erudite young man of twenty-two called Chester Cadman. As Lord Clearwater was hosting his annual charity ball at Larkspur, and as Dalston Blaze was chasing a potential assassin, Chester Cadman was in London, working for a mapmaker and indulging in one of his favourite pastimes: debunking the spiritual entertainments offered by Mr Maskelyen and Mr Cooke.

These stage productions were popular in Victorian times, and you can find advertisements for such things in the newspaper archives, and elsewhere. Chester was attending one at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, and while there, met another, equally handsome, young man called William Barnes. The following day, Chester’s life changed—but I’m not going to tell you how because I don’t want to give away any spoilers.

The Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, London, was an exhibition hall built in the ancient Egyptian style in 1812, to the designs of Peter Frederick Robinson.

The Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly

Long demolished, this West End venue was home to a museum, art exhibitions, Victorian ‘freak shows’ and magic shows. Victorian magic duo John Nevil Maskelyne (1839-1917) and George Alfred Cooke (1825-1905) hosted a show at the venue for 31 years. It’s been claimed Maskelyne invented the illusion of levitation, as well as the coin-operated toilet lock. [Memoirs of a Metro Girl, a London culture and history blog.] January 1891

When I began ‘Seeing through Shadows’, I had no idea how it was going to unfold. Then, after writing the first chapter, I knew where I was heading, and spent a couple of days at the writing desk, plotting, planning, and inventing a fair amount of history. Along with factual history, I invented 18 Viscounts Clearwater, their birth and death dates, and the year they came to the title. I also had to refine and define the history of Larkspur Abbey, how it was affected by the Dissolution, when it was extended, altered and re-landscaped, and several other historical points. Why? Well, because the novel’s action plot focuses on a recurrence of a historical haunting, and that’s all I can say about that, for now.

Back to that first chapter. When I started it, I didn’t know who my main character was to be. I often do that; I think of a name, age, big event from the past and set that character against a plot device on which to hang a mystery, and decide who is to be his impact character. (An impact character’s role is very simple: they are there to inspire, enable, or somehow make another character change. Usually the other character is the main character or protagonist.) The first paragraph I wrote for ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ came from nowhere, but I knew it was a good place to start, because all good stories start with a railway journey. ‘Shadows’ opens with:

The Cornish Riviera Express en route to Cornwall January 1891

Chester Cadman turned his attention away from the passing scenery and wondered if he hadn’t made another terrible mistake. His travelling companion was a quiet stranger to whom he had handed his wellbeing and future, and he had put his life in the hands of men he knew nothing about. Again.

The Cornish Riviera Express

A Classic Mashup

I guess ‘Shadows’ is one of my classic mashups. Along with a mystery that needs solving, we have a story of developing love, and there are a couple of sexually charged scenes in this novel. Not full-on descriptive scenes as there are in ‘Deviant Desire’ or my Mentor series, but something more subtle and, I hope, imagination fuelling. There is also some humour from our regular cast, Frank Andino ( read his recent interview here) and Fleet, and we meet two new academy men, Henry and Edward, who, I imagine, will come to the fore in a future novel. Dalston and Joe are in the story now and then, too, but they are about to head to London for their new lives, which may well lead into the third series, ‘The Delamere Mysteries’ next year.

Meanwhile, at Larkspur Hall, Thomas Payne becomes our protagonist because Clearwater is away in London dealing with something which will become a Delamere Mystery in the future. Barnaby Nancarrow, the country’s youngest butler, makes an appearance, and some other Hall characters are developed a little more. While all that’s going on, Chester is adjusting to his new life, conflicted about his feelings for someone, desperate to please Clearwater and repay his kindness, and generally turning heads among the academy men.

Seeing Through Shadows’ is one of those stories where, along with the main character, the reader is invited to work out what the hell is going on. Unlike ‘Agents of the Truth’, there is no villain as such, and no-one’s life is in danger. ‘Shadows’ progresses through several twists, and chapters tend to conclude with a ‘What if?’ or an emotional or mysterious cliff hanger. There are also inserts where the mystery is seen from an unusual perspective. Only short sections, but ones which are intended to lend atmosphere and, of course, mystery. These were interesting to write as events are seen from the perspective of an owl, a fox and a cat. I’ll leave you with just such an excerpt. I’ve not yet fully edited this, but here is what I have at the moment. It’s from the end of a chapter later in the story, the night before the ‘great reveal’ when the mystery is explained, and it’s one of the inserts as seen from an owl’s point of view.

Not all was harmonious with the night, however, and the owl ruffled its feathers in a shiver of disquiet. Off to the west, something unrequited was advancing through the fragile air. It was still at a distance, but it was coming from across the moor, beneath the ground, making its steady path towards the hall as it had done before. Unstoppable, it would appear and disappear; it was real, and it was ethereal; it was alive where it lived, and yet it would die if it stayed there. Something that couldn’t be laid to rest until it was understood, its appearance was inevitable.
Nervous, the owl screeched its disapproval, and fell from the battlements, wings spread. The uplift took her high above the sloping tiles and the last of the drifting woodsmoke, the treetops and moorland, and she circled wide and slowly to the Academy House where her interest lay. Passing the sleeping outbuildings, the yards, and windows dark with the hour, she came to one aglow, and landed on the sill.
Within, flames swayed on the last of their wicks, languid as they burned away time. Their faint light withdrew from corners to candles as they died, and drew their cast across carpet, over chairs, through a field of jumbled clothing, to the cliff edge of the bed. Ascending as it faded, the light lasted just long enough for the owl to see the shape of two men, naked, entwined, fulfilled and dreaming.
The ground was laid for the inevitable, and knowing there was nothing she could do but watch, the owl dropped from the window and once again became one with the night.

‘Seeing Through Shadows’ is due for release later this month.

Happy Birthday Lord Clearwater

To celebrate what would have been Lord Clearwater’s 163rd birthday, I have made two books free for two days. ‘Banyak & Fecks’, the Clearwater Mysteries’ prequel, and the first book in the series, ‘Deviant Desire’, are free on Kindle for this weekend only. Click here to check out the series.


Saturday, March 26th, 1859. The Illustrated Times, on its front page, began thus:

The coming congress.

So it seems that the great questions which for months have threatened Europe with war, are to be brought to the test of arbitration, and settled on the principles of common sense.

(The illustration shows ‘The Prince of Wales’s balcony on the Corso, Rome, during the carnival.’)

One hundred and sixty-three years later, the headlines aren’t that dissimilar, which is a shame, although there is less common sense in some areas of the world. Since Archer, Lord Clearwater, was born, there have been other historical events on his birthday, one of which is the birth of author James Collins (aka Jackson Marsh), in 1963. Also of note might be, the birth of Tennessee Williams in 1911, Richard Dawkins in 1941, Diana Ross in 1944, Bangladesh became an independent state in 1971, and (I hate to say it) Vladimir Putin was elected Head of State in 2000. On a happier note, Doctor Who returned to UK television on this day in 2005.

As it is Archer’s 163rd birthday, I thought I might take a look at what he has been through since he came to literary life on March 7th, 2019. Archer is only three years old in book terms, but he has been on, or played a part in, 13 adventures so far, appearing in 10 of the Clearwater Mysteries, and, so far, three of the Larkspur Mysteries. He doesn’t appear in the Clearwater prequel, Banyak & Fecks, other than as a vague reference in a dream Silas has, where he dreams of meeting such a man in a carriage full of money. He will appear in the fourth Larkspur mystery, ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ due out next month, although only briefly, because he is mainly away in London, dealing with events which are taking place in ‘The Delamere Mysteries.’ This is an idea I have for a second spin-off from the Clearwater Mysteries, and which I hope to write next year.

Adventures Archer has been involved in during his literary life so far.

As I was saying… His first claim to fame was unmasking the East End Ripper, the villain, based on Jack the Ripper, who started the series off in Deviant Desire. Since then, he has faced many perils, including: Fighting on a dockside gantry and falling into the Thames. Battling a villain on the roof of a speeding steam train heading for disaster. Racing across the country in a blizzard to rescue two kidnap victims. Appearing in court in full regalia to defend his innocent friends. Confronting other villains, falling into a mineshaft, and sword fighting his way out of an assassination.

Archer is quite an active chap, both in and out of the bedroom. In 1877, he became a lieutenant on The Britannia, where he served under his brother, Crispin, during conflicts on the Black Sea.

HMS Brittania entering Portsmouth UK

Archer was honourably discharged from the navy in 1886 following a near-fatal injury inflicted by his own brother. When Crispin was declared incurably insane, the 18th viscount reluctantly gave into Lady Emily’s wishes and arranged for Archer to succeed the title on his death. His naval training and upbringing have served him well, but he has natural talents too. These have seen him through love, laughter and a lot of laughs, while leaving him loyal, lordly and loving. I couldn’t think of anymore ‘L’ words to alliterate his character, only to add that he’s also rather lush.

He is handsome, debonair, and extremely well endowed, both financially and… elsewhere. In my writer’s imagination, Archer started off as a classic young, good-looking, wealthy aristocrat who was, in a way, a reluctant hero. His brother, Crispin, should have taken the title and all that goes with it, but Crispin was a psychopath and is already locked up when the stories start. Archer suffered much in his childhood because of Crispin, but also because of his father, who thought he was soft and unmanly, treated him appallingly both physically and emotionally, and made his early life as difficult as hell. However, Archer managed to live through all that, and when he was elevated to the title in 1888 (two months before the stories start), he did so with resolve.

Archer is, as we would say, gay, and has known it since an early age. His first sexual awakenings happened with Tommy Payne, then a hall boy at both Larkspur Hall and Clearwater House. Later, Tommy became Thomas, the footman, and when Archer took the title, he elevated him to the role of butler, where he became Mr Payne.

Through the series, Archer and Thomas’ love for each other bubbles beneath the surface, and rolls in waves between physical desire and platonic love. Because of their stations in life, there is no chance of a physical relationship, however, not even when Archer makes Thomas his steward, and Thomas becomes Tom. A steward is the highest rank Archer can give him to make him a gentleman, without Thomas leaving to become a man of business, and that’s something Thomas would never do. Tom and Archer will be together in an endless bromance until they die. Meanwhile, when Archer is away from Larkspur, Tom more or less takes his role, and some of the staff have commented privately that Tom is the new Lady Clearwater.

Archer has had lovers, though, and it was being discovered with one while in the navy that led to Crispin’s attempt to murder him. But, Simon Harrington died, leaving Archer to face civilian life and the viscountcy alone. Thus, he put his energies into his philanthropic endeavours, and because he understood what it was like to crave a life with ‘men of a similar heart’, and not be allowed one, he set about creating the Clearwater Foundation. In other words, Archer was gay, being gay was illegal in those days, and he wanted to help other gay men to exist as themselves. He began this with the Cheap Street Mission for rent boys, and while setting that up, wanted to interview one or two renters to get their thoughts and understand their needs. Enter Silas Hawkins. The two meet, and the earth moves. It’s love at first sight, and although the river of true love hasn’t run smoothly, Archer and Silas are still together to this day in 1891, which is where we are currently at in the Clearwater world.

Silas Hawkins, street-rat and renter

Archer has a knack for knowing when another man is ‘of a similar heart.’ In other words, he’s got good gaydar, and that’s why his house is gradually filling up with gay staff. It’s not because he lusts after them, because he doesn’t (although I think he harbours a secret desire to experience what gave the straight Ukrainian, Andrej, his nickname ‘Fecker’, but then, don’t we all?). Archer simply likes to help people, particularly, but not exclusively, young gay men. Hence, he opened the Larkspur Academy for young, gifted, and, probably, gay men from underprivileged backgrounds.

Larkspur Hall Inspiration

By the time he did this, early in 1890, he had gathered around him a team of loyal and good friends, elevating each one of them to a better position in life, as he himself was elevated to viscount. Thomas we know about (hall boy to steward). From the slums of the Wiral to the back alleys of Greychurch, Silas goes on to become his own man of business. James Wright enters the series as a messenger, becomes household staff, a valet and later has his own private company. Andrej, a Ukrainian refugee, goes from war to circus, renting, groom to horse master. Lucy, from maid to head cook. Sally, from chambermaid to the youngest housekeeper of a grand house in the country. Barnaby Nancarrow from footman to butler, other stable lads at Larkspur become household staff or are promoted, and gradually, the young take the places of older staff, as Archer rids his life of his father’s legacy, and makes his land, estates, properties and business his own.

Currently, as I mentioned, he is in London working on some cases that I’ve not even thought of yet, and while he is there, the Larkspur Academy is about to welcome its next man, Chester Cadman. You will be able to read ‘Seeing through Shadows’ soon. If you will excuse me, I shall return to working on the new novel while wishing Archer a happy birthday, and looking forward to whatever he is going to be doing next.