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 Old Nichol and a Dirty Old Man

How Research and Detail Improve your Novel

A notorious slum and a dirty old man have led me to write a new book, ‘Speaking in Silence.’ To follow the progress of this novel, the fifth in the Larkspur Mystery series, tune into my Wednesday WIP blog, but to know how research and detail improve your novel, read on.

The Old Nichol was an infamous slum area of Bethnal Green in East London, and I’ll get onto that part of my research later. First, though, I want to tell you what inspired me to write ‘Speaking in Silence’, and it starts with a man on a train.

One night in April 1891

On the night of April 20th 1891, a young man by the name of Christopher Richmond was travelling by train from Horsham in Sussex to East Croydon in Surrey. He was followed into an empty compartment by a man called Charles Fyffe, later described in the newspapers as ‘elderly.’ This man, it seems, had a penchant for young lads. Christopher was 16, worked for the railway as a goods clerk, and had a disability. During the first part of the journey, Christpher said, the man carried out various acts of indecent assault upon him. The precise details are not mentioned in the newspapers of the time, as they considered these things not palatable for the Victorian reader, but despite Christopher’s objects, Fyffe continued his advances even after the pair changed trains at Three Bridges. When they reached East Croydon, Christopher made a complaint to the authorities, and Fyffe was arrested. The young man did the right thing, and was prepared to testify in court, which he later did. You’d think that would have been the end of the matter.

Far from it.

Here’s an extract from a newspaper I found in the British Newspaper Archive, dated 29th April 1891.

Mr C.A. Fyffe, the accepted Liberal candidate for East Wilts, who was summoned to Croydon Police Court yesterday, charged with a serious assault in a railway carriage between Horsham and Croydon, on Monday week, did not appear.

Who was willing to appear, however, was a heap of character witnesses prepared to speak to the high literary and social character of the accused, viz., the Dean of Westminster, Professor Jowett, Sir Horace Davey, Sir George Grove, Mr Benson, London Stipendiary Magistrate, Mr Robinson, editor of the Daily News, and others…

A little more research made it clear to me that there was more to this case than a well-to-do older man pulling out the big guns to save his reputation, and more reading uncovered a few more facts. Fyffe had worked for a newspaper. When arrested, he gave a false name to the police (three times), and later, tried to kill himself.

Right, I thought, this is a case that needs looking into.

I spent some time in the online newspaper archive, and looked around elsewhere for mentions of this case. I found a very detailed presentation of it on Rictor Norton’s wonderful website where he lists incidents such as this as reported in the newspapers of the time, and he’d found more information than I could track down. I have taken inspiration for other stories from this site (the idea for ‘Guardians of the Poor’ came from here), and I suggest anyone writing gay fiction set in the 19th century bookmarks his site as essential reading. Click the link in the citation to lose yourself in historical fact.

Rictor Norton (Ed.), “Prosecution and Suicide of Eminent Historian, 1891”,

Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 10 September 2021 http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1891fyff.htm 

If you head there and read the full reports, you will get all the details of the case, but what attracted me to this story was my own outrage. More facts come out as you read the history, and it becomes very clear that Fyffe pulled in the ‘old boy’ network to protect himself. You can, in my opinion, see the bias in newspaper reports, such as one that came out in the Western Chronicle which uses phrases such as Mr. Fyffe was made the subject of a terrible charge by a lad… Unnerved at his frightful position… a moment of the direst confusion… the deep sympathy of his political friends and foes are with him… No-one who knows him believes him for one moment to be guilty.

There is no such sympathy towards young Christopher, whose testimony was called into question. Why didn’t he get out of the carriage at the next stop? (His disability meant it would have taken time, and he might have missed the train.) Why didn’t he report it before East Croydon as there were several stops along the way? (Because East Croydon was his final destination, and to report it elsewhere would have meant he didn’t get home that night.) Maybe he was complicit or tried to blackmail Fyffe? Christopher swore he was not and did not. From his testimony, he sounds like a very upright young man, after all, he was in a decent clerical job at the age of sixteen.

Outrageous newspaper bias in favour of a man who wrote for the Daily News, I decided. I would have written a strongly worded letter to the Western Chronicle had I not been 131 years too late.

The intrigue continues…

It turned out that the ‘elderly’ Mr Fyffe was 42 (another report puts him at 45, either way, hardly ‘elderly’), and the reason he didn’t appear at the first hearing was because he’d tried to cut his own throat. Later, when he was able to appear, he was brought in on a stretcher. (Drama queen?) His old cronies testified to his good character, and when the case came before the grand jury to decide if it should go to trial, even the judge said something like, ‘Well, we know this kind of thing goes on…’ as if it were nothing.

In charging the grand jury, Mr. Justice Mathew said that what first struck one about the case was that the acts were improbable, seeing that the charge was made against a man of mature years. [Croydon Advertiser and East Surrey Reporter. 18 July 1891]

Not only were the newspaper reports biased in favour of Fyffe, so was the Justice. It was improbable that a respected, mature man, standing to be elected as an MP might fancy a lone 16-year-old trapped in a railway carriage by his disability at night and try and touch him up…? Improbable my arse.

In the end, the case never went to trial. Not only was Christopher pilloried in the press and his good name called into question (he was counter-accused of being complicit by asking for ‘a present’ in return for sex, an allegation he denied) but he never got his justice, and that’s what’s at the heart of ‘Speaking in Silence.’

There’s a lot more to this case, and for my novel, I have used it as inspiration, mixing in some facts, but bending the truth in places for dramatic and fictional effect. If you were wondering, Christopher had lost a foot (not sure how, possibly an accident on the railways as his father worked for the company and they lived in railway dwellings in Brighton). Living away from home in a decent job aged only 16, he presented a very reasonable case in court, but because Fyffe know all those important people and was (later) an MP, an Oxford Fellow and an author, the chances were clearly weighted on the side of the villain.

You are Allowed to Fictionalise Facts

To be honest, reading the case makes my blood boil. Happily, though, I found out that Christopher eventually married, and emigrated to Australia, where he may well still have descendants. As for Fyffe… He died the following year ‘from the effects of his self-inflicted wounds.’ We may celebrate at that, but it still left Christopher with no justice.

For ‘Speaking in Silence’, I have moved the incident back a few years, so it forms part of the backstory of my mainly silent character, Edward Hyde (the Christopher Richmond of the story). It was, I thought, about time we found out about him and his constant companion, Henry Hope. Henry and Edward are 18 and 20 respectively and have a genius for science. How, I wondered, is that going to be useful in getting justice for Edward? That is one of the mysteries the reader will, I hope, enjoy as the story progresses.

The other part of the novel is the backstory of Edward and Henry, and for that, I turned to a copy of ‘The Blackest Streets’ by renowned author, Sarah Wise.

The Old Nichol

Even if you have never lived in London, or even England, you may well have heard the nursery rhyme, ‘Oranges and Lemons.’ This rhyme was first published in the ‘Pretty Song Book’ by Tommy Thumb in 1744, and it seems to have appeared simply as what it is: a rhyme that lists several London churches. One theory is that the song was written to help strangers find their way around the city, but whatever it was created for, it mentions Shoreditch.

When will you pay me? Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich, Say the bells of Shoreditch

The bells in question are those of Saint Leonard’s church, a grade one listed building built in 1740, and a good friend of mine used to live right next door. As I only lived a mile away up the Kingsland Road, and as Julian’s flat was on the way to our regular drinking haunts around Shoreditch and Old Street, I was forever in the area. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was visiting the part of London once known as the Old Nichol, one of the worst slums in the city up until it was demolished and replaced by the Boundary Estate in 1900.

If you look on Google maps and search for Shoreditch or St Leonard’s church, you’ll see the A10 road running south to meet with Commercial Street, and to the east of the church, Arnold Circus, making a wheel-like pattern on the map. That was just about the centre of the Old Nichol, and some of the original roads still exist, namely Old Nichol Street to the south of Arnold Circus, and Boundary Street which runs parallel to the A10. You can find a map of the Old Nichol as it was in 1889 at Horrible Hackney, also there is a plan of the Boundary Estate in 1890. Shoreditch is on the western edge of the imagined ‘Greychurch’ of my Clearwater novels, and on the eastern side of it, I have Limedock (Limehouse). ‘Greychurch’ is a location for several Clearwater stories, and now, part of the backstory of Henry Hope and Edward Hyde. You were wondering when they were going to come back in, weren’t you?

First-Hand Accounts

Henry and Edward lived for a while in a room in the Old Nichol, and when I first started thinking about how that would have been, I turned to my usual resources for first-hand research. In this case, VictorianLondon.org and a copy of Low-Life Deeps, by James Greenwood, 1881 [first published 1875] – Curiosities of “Alley” Life. Those of you who were paying attention a couple of years ago when I was writing ‘Banyak & Fecks’ might remember James Greenwood. He was, allegedly, one of the first investigative reporters, and spent a night in the casual ward of the Lambeth workhouse to experience and report on what casual paupers had to endure. I used that piece of writing to inform a scene in ‘Banyak & Fecks’ and Greenwood and other sources to inform the workhouse scenes in ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ Here, Greenwood writes a report of his findings after a visit to Devonshire Place, one of the worst courts in the heart of the Old Nichol.

There was but one bedstead in the room — a mite of a place; I measured it with my walking stick and found that it was three and a half one way and four sticks the other, and yet it was made to accommodate mother, father, and eight children.

… a tiny room above and below, with broken floors and blackened walls and ceilings so shattered that every step overhead causes the rotten plaster to crumble and fall…

Reading a first-hand account is probably the best place to start your historical fiction writing. Your job is to help a reader imagine where your characters are, as well as who they are and what they do, and with a little research, you can add facts into your story that will help it ‘pop.’ Such facts come from people like James Greenwood and Sarah Wise, and the book I mentioned, ‘The Blackest Streets.’

That book is deeply researched and so well written I’ve found it a bit un-put-down-able, and I’ve learnt much from it. Not only about Poor Laws and government boards, the rather useless legal framework in place to force landlords to repair homes, and the work of officials and charitable bodies in helping the poor, but also a great deal about the people my characters would have lived among. Not everyone was a ragged, starving pauper withering away on a death bed and devoid of hope, as today’s films might have us believe (although there were plenty of unfortunates like that, of course). What comes from reading reminiscences of the place is the ‘get on with it and make do’ attitude of many residents. The way neighbours looked after each other (when they weren’t beating up each other or their families), the ‘honour among thieves’ mentality if you like, and the way the criminal gangs worked, and the police kept a distant eye.

The book explains the housing conditions, and in one section, describes how, in some dwellings, the lavatory was in the back ‘yard.’ To get to it, the residents had to descend to the windowless cellar, and bent double beneath the ground floor floorboards, walk through the cellar to the back door. This they would do as quietly as they could so as not to disturb the family who lived in the cellar.

From Charles Booth’s poverty map

It’s that kind of detail that I like to put into my novels: real and detailed, and in this case, almost unthinkable. This kind of research pays off, and these kinds of details really bring your story to life.

As I work my way through ‘Speaking in Silence’, I find myself putting in such things as the factual times of trains my characters take. For this, I refer to my railways’ guru who sends me the times and changes necessary for a fictional character to get from A to B on March 22nd 1891, as taken from the timetables of the day. Or, as another example, I find a character standing on Blackfriars Bridge contemplating how far away the railway bridge is, and how high above the Thames he is standing. The old railway bridge isn’t there anymore, just its pillars, but the road bridge was roughly 14 meters above river level.

Research Leads to Detail

Research leads to detail, and detail leads to a more fulfilling read for your reader. It also leads to the author doing a lot of reading and learning a lot of facts along the way. As a final example: Did you know that when someone talks in their sleep, they are giving you a somniloquy, or, I suppose, somniloquising? Well, you do now, and you never know when that snippet will come in handy.


Sources:

The British Newspaper Archive
https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/

Rictor Norton, “Prosecution and Suicide of Eminent Historian, 1891”,

Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 10 September 2021 http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1891fyff.htm 

Horrid Hackney

https://horridhackney.com/f/the-appalling-victorian-slums-of-the-old-nichol-shoreditch

Victorian London org

https://www.victorianlondon.org/publications4/low-11.htm

Work In Progress 3.03

Speaking in Silence

I started back on Larkspur Five, Speaking in Silence, on Monday. I’d done some work on it previously, but I wasn’t that happy with what I’d written.

The first chapter is fine (for now), and it’s rather Dickensian as we follow a mystery character into the depths of Greychurch (Whitechapel) for a clandestine meeting which sets up the rest of the story. Then, however, I’d cut to a couple of men at the Larkspur Academy and had written a very prosaic ‘waking up’ scene. This was followed by breakfast where Fleet asked all the characters what they were doing, and filled us in on what’s happened at the academy since we finished reading Seeing Through Shadows.

What I’d actually done, I realised, was tell myself what had been happening and where everyone was. Cadman was mapping the estate, Clem was about to start his business, Frank had been doing XYZ and Hyde and Hope were blah-di-blah. The reader didn’t need to know all that in the second chapter, and it was a bit ‘in yer face.’ So, I scrapped it. Rather, I put it in the ‘cuts’ folder because there are parts of it I will need later. I just didn’t need to bung it all in right at the start in the manner of a ‘Previously on Larkspur…’ announcement at the start of a TV show.

So, with chapter two out of the window, I moved chapter three, which I’d started, to second place, and carried on, and now things are flowing much more smoothly.

The story proper starts in chapter two (one being something of a prologue), and it starts with a dinner party at the Hall. Bigwigs and important MPs have come to inspect the academy, and among them are the men who will decide if Archer should be raised to the rank of Earl.

I need to do some research there, because things might have been different in 1891 to how they are now, and I know it’s not as simple as the monarch awarding the title like the good old medieval days. At least, I don’t think it was like that… I’ll let you know.

Anyway, the news is that the train has left the station and I am driving it, albeit slowly to start with. If you’ll excuse the analogy, I reckon I’ve just left Paddington and am still building up a head of steam. I’ve only reached the western suburbs so far, and my destination, Larkspur Hall in Cornwall, is still a long, long way away.

On my way!

Guest Post with Ally Lester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warning! Deep Water

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

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

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

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

BUY JMS BOOKS $2.99 : WIDE BUY LINKS TBA

Excerpt

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

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

There was clearly a story there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

About A. L. Lester

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-1.png

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

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

Work In Progress 3.02

Work In Progress 3.02

Week two of the creation of ‘Speaking in Silence’ and I’m afraid I will have to be rather silent on the subject. I said in my last WIP blog that I intended ‘beginning on the book proper in a couple of weeks.’ I still do, and the couple of weeks has now become one week. I intend to start on it on Sunday. Meanwhile, I have been reading about railways, investigating a few other matters I need to know, and inventing scenes in my head.

So, the WIP news this week is that there isn’t any WIP news this week, but I’m looking forward to knuckling down again in a few days. Summer is fast approaching, and that means I’ll be up at my usual summer morning time of 4.30-ish, at the desk by five if not sooner, and will have all morning and, when it’s not too hot, all afternoon to dedicate to the next Larkspur adventure. I’ll be keeping you informed as I progress through it.

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…

Guest Post from Merry Farmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bowery 1905

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Touch of Romance, released 15th April

Blurb

He crossed the ocean to escape from love…

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

…but love has other plans…

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

…until heartbreak strikes.

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

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

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

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

Coming Soon!


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.

Work In Progress 2.10

‘Seeing Through Shadows’

Second draft is progressing nicely.

I had a great birthday weekend, everyone. Thank you to all of you who sent best wishes and nice messages, and to those who downloaded a copy of Banyak & Fecks and/or Deviant Desire. They’re back from free-land now, but still there for sale along with all my others if you haven’t read the Clearwater Series yet. The excellent news is that Deviant Desire went to #2 in the charts over the weekend, which means Lord Clearwater and his crew might gather a few new supporters.

Deviant Desire at the top of the charts at the weekend!

Meanwhile, at the desk… This week I’m pleased to tell you that the second draft of ‘Seeing Through Shadows’, the next Larkspur novel, is progressing well. Neil is beta reading the MS for story, plot etc., and I am working my way through a grammar & style check, editing, cutting and improving as I go. The aim is to release the book in April, so there’s not long to wait now. Anjela has come up with a cover, which I will let you see nearer the time, and I am working on the blurb which should also be ready shortly. So, next week, you may well see a short blurb/synopsis of ‘Seeing Through Shadows’, and I should have the MS ready to send off to be proofread.

An Author’s Desk

Having your own workspace with your author tools to hand is the best way to focus your mind on writing your book.

The other day, my research into Larkspur Four grew so much I needed to bring in the music stand.

What? I hear you ask.

My typing table/computer desk isn’t very wide, and I have no room to put my notebooks beside me, especially as the one I am using is rather large. Therefore, I used my music stand as a bookstand, and had my newly invented Clearwater family history directly to my left, so I could more easily refer to it. This made me think that a blog post about what is on an author’s desk might be fun and interesting.

I have uploaded some photos to illustrate the phenomenon of my author’s desk, and apologise for the slightly blurred quality. They were taken on my phone with no natural light because my shutters are closed against the strong winds, which have brought the temperature back down to six degrees. And this is in Greece.

I work at two desks. Firstly, there’s the one where I have my laptop on its stand and where I sit on a kneel-up stool.

This is an Ikea computer station, and I bought it because of the shelves. They mean I can have books and other bits and piece to hand. If you take a closer look at the photo above, you’ll see, across the top: a photo of my husband and I when we were (much) younger, an old brass vase, an old school handbell, and a silver candelabra. These oddments I keep there because they go with the old-fashioned feel I like in my study. On the walls in the photo are an old print of the county of Kent, where I am from, and a print of a painting by my mum. As I sit, directly to my right, I have…

A couple of shelves that house a print copy of The Vulgar Tongue, a dictionary of old English cant and slang, and it’s resting against a few notebooks. Along with a handy pack of tissues, I have a tin containing flash drives, and beneath, my address books and a place for random pencils, pieces of notepaper and so on. I don’t like a crowded workspace, and I like to see free space on shelves, because it means there’s room for more notebooks.

If I look up from the laptop, which is on a lean-to stand, I can see the magnetic boards where I sometimes pin notes, and where right now, I have a note of when my mother arrives for a holiday, a note about how to shortcut to an em dash, an en dash, and a hyphen (— and – and – respectively). On the other board, I have a certificate to remind me I’ve adopted a Galapagos penguin, but that’s another story. While, directly to my left, I have…

…an altogether more interesting couple of shelves and a ‘secret’ drop-down drawer full of things I’d forgotten I’d put there. The top shelf houses a set of cassette tapes (remember them?) from my youth, including one of me playing the piano at the age of 16/17 in 1979/1980. Sadly, on it I am even singing some of my own dreary songs. The tapes are beyond playable really, but I have put that one into digital format for prosperity. There are also recordings of my early cabaret acts and musicals that I wrote. They sit with a dope pipe (needed to listen to me singing at the age of 17, but never used, I just liked the colour), a glass I bought in Prague in 1991, and a little bear. That’s one of those random gifts from the husband, like the penguin. Beneath this I’ve got a handy grammar reference book, my glasses and a small bottle of complimentary good-knows-what from a posh hotel I kept because I liked the colour.

That’s my rather prosaic computer station. Meanwhile, over at my writing desk…

This used to be my father’s back in the 1970s. It’s a dark wood and inlaid with leather, has three deep drawers and brass fittings. I bought a captain’s chair to go with it, also in dark wood and leather, and these sit beneath an oil portrait of my uncle (off shot), and a tapestry my mother made of a house we used to live in. To the right is my hideous Ikea bookshelf (I’d rather it was oak, but… well, you know, money), where one whole shelf is now filled with my published novels, and there are so many books elsewhere, they are stacked in piles. On the desk, however, from left to right, I have…

A line of notebooks supported by a ‘book collection’ CD cabinet which holds some very old computer CDs, but would also be the perfect size for a secretive bottle of port. Each of the notebooks has a history as being either a present or something I liked, and they are either hardback or leather bound. They are my ‘special’ notebooks, like the two currently in use on the desk; my Clearwater bible and my larger Larkspur bible. I also have a pewter tankard engraved with one of my names, Tobias, an early 20th C reading lamp, half a coconut shell with a glittering, turquoise interior I bought on honeymoon in Croatia (because I liked the colour), an old-style table magnifying lamp, and, of course, more books.

In front of the notebook line is a brass compass in a small wooden case to remind me of Clearwater times, and that I am on charting my way towards writing my 40th novel, and a painted stone. Another gift from my husband. He commissioned this from a local artist when it was our stone anniversary, which was also noted as being our rose anniversary.

There. That may have filled a few moments of your coffee break. I put this up so you might have an insight into what I, as an author, have around me. Also in my writing space… My reference books are cluttering the bookcase, and I have a cabinet behind me full of more notebooks and covered in my current hobby; building horror figure models. Above this is an original map of the Great Western Railway from about 100 years ago, and a rough plan of Larkspur Hall. Like I said, keep your tools close to hand.

As you can see, I take my workspace seriously, yet try to make it a comfortable and meaningful place to work. Having your own workspace, peace, quiet and your tools to hand is the best way to focus your mind on writing your book. Not only do I have a routine of at least six hours of writing every day, I do it in the same place, with the same silence and atmosphere. That’s how I’ve managed to write and sell so many novels. It works for me, but everyone has their own way of doing things.

Check in on Wednesday’s work in progress blog to see how the new novel is coming and have a great weekend. J x