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.

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…

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.

Clearwater: The Cornish Connection.

Clearwater: The Cornish Connection.

The Clearwater Mysteries open in London’s East End in 1888, and for the first three books, the action centres around Clearwater House in the west of the city. We don’t get to Cornwall until the end of book four, ‘Fallen Splendour,’ and even then, it is only a fleeting visit. Clearwater’s country home, Larkspur Hall, begins to come to life in book five, ‘Bitter Bloodline’, and is one of the main settings for book ten, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’ It is, of course, also the star of the new Larkspur Academy series.

But where and what is Larkspur Hall, and where did it come from?

Larkspur Hall is a fictitious stately home in Cornwall, and a question I am often asked is…

Why Cornwall?

My mother moved from Kent to Cornwall in the 1980s, and I made my first visit there when I was about 20. I looked up where I was going and what I could expect, using books in those days, and asked others who had been there what they thought of the place. I was told to expect impressive cliffs, wild countryside, a dramatic coastline and superb, open vistas dotted with ancient monoliths and settlements.

I arrived at night on the train from Paddington, in itself, a romantic journey, and was taken to a remote farmhouse where my mother was living while she and my step-dad renovated a Wesleyan chapel they were converting into a home. It was dark, of course, but the following morning, I was up early to throw back the curtains and catch my first sight of the promised wild and inspiring countryside… and saw nothing but fog for two days.

Ah well, that was still romantically mysterious enough for me, and when the weather improved, it didn’t take long before I was exploring Penwith by bicycle and falling in love with the county. Penwith is the very last part of the last county in England, home to Land’s End and locations with enigmatic names such as Zennor, Kelynack, and Crows-an-wra where my mother’s chapel was/is. It is also where you find Penzance, of the pirates’ fame, but let’s not bring Gilbert and Sullivan into this.

I have returned to Cornwall many times over the years. My husband and I took the children there one Christmas and stayed in a remote farmhouse on the moors near the Nine Maidens stone circle.

On another visit one night, my antique Ford Escort delivered me to a guesthouse somewhere equally as remote just as the radiator blew up, leaving me somewhat stranded. The upside of this was an uninterrupted and unpolluted night sky. I have never seen so many stars. They seemed so close, I could have lit a cigar from them.

These days, living in Greece, I don’t have the chance to visit Cornwall very often, except in my imagination, and that’s a very tenuous link to the next question: Where and what is Larkspur Hall?

Larkspur Hall  

The name came from my imagination while I was writing book two, ‘Twisted Tracks.’ I just checked the original publication and noted, with alarm, that I had written, ‘Larkspur is Lord Clearwater’s country house two miles north of London.’ Cornwall is actually over 200 miles from London by car, and Bodmin, where Larkspur is now situated, is 259 miles from Knightsbridge and Clearwater House. I re-released ‘Twisted Tracks’ in 2020 and made the change. Larkspur is now described as being ‘miles west of the city’, and I left it vague because, then, I wasn’t then sure exactly where I was going to place it.

I can’t remember when I decided to put Larkspur on the edge of Bodmin Moor. I think it was while creating ‘Fallen Splendour’, but I chose the location for several reasons.

  1. It is remote, which is helpful when I want seclusion and a sense of being cut off from the world. Very useful for when we have an assassin stalking the grounds.
  2. The distance is handy for when we have a race against time. In the late 1880s, it would have taken up to 12 hours to reach Larkspur from London by train. When the race to stop a murder is on, changing lines, the weather and conflicting timetables all play a part in delaying the hero and heightening the tension.
  3. Bodmin Moor is wild, subject to rough weather, has an ancient history and is romantic. Moors have always been popular with romantic writers (Egdon Heath for Hardy, the Yorkshire Moors for Emily Brontë), because of their combination of loneliness, mystery and tradition.
  4. I like Cornwall. Simple
A beautiful and dramatic sunrise over Bodmin Moor

Is Larkspur Hall based on a real property?

Yes and no. I based it on several. When you read the Clearwater Mysteries, you will find characters mention how the Hall has been added to over the years, how it started life as an abbey, has a square tower, church-like pillars in the grand hall, and what I call a horseshoe staircase, which is actually an imperial staircase. (See photo, for the shape. At Larkspur, the stairs and balustrades are stone.)

An imperial staircase (sometimes erroneously known as a “double staircase”) is the name given to a staircase with divided flights. Usually, the first flight rises to a half-landing and then divides into two symmetrical flights both rising with an equal number of steps and turns to the next floor. [Wikipedia.]

This is a central point for a few action scenes in the Clearwater and Larkspur Mysteries, and appeals to my sense of the theatrical. As does the tower, the ruined church in the grounds, and the maze of servants’ passages. Larkspur is said to have 16 bedrooms, but they are actually suites, so include a sitting room, dressing room and bathroom. Thanks to Archer, the Hall is now powered by electricity and the servants’ rooms all have gas heaters and hot and cold running water.

The inspiration for the outside of the Hall came from several places. Lanhydrock House is one. Although Larkspur is taller and doesn’t have the protruding wings of Lanhydrock, the gatehouse is similar. (See photo.) You could also look at Highclare Castle where Downton Abbey is filmed, but if you do, only look at the front, and move its main tower from behind the building and stick it on the end of the west wing.

By the way, Lanhydrock is just south of Bodmin, and about six miles away from Larkspur.

There is an interpretation of Larkspur Hall on the cover of ‘Bitter Bloodline.’

I have an Ordnance Survey map of Bodmin Moor, and on it, I have marked the Larkspur estate. If you wanted to look up the estate boundary (on OS Explorer map 109), you would find it like this: The northern boundary abuts the village of Waterloo, and runs east to Medland, drops south from there to Fore Downs, west from there to Trago and beyond, and runs northwards back to Waterloo via Trewardale and Trewint. It takes in all of what is now the military land marked ‘danger area’, the A30 doesn’t exist, and I have wiped out several villages and hamlets. Sorry about that.

The Hall would be situated at Pounds Conce, and Larkspur Village would be roughly where Millpool is, but it’s all made up. Having said that, some places mentioned in the Clearwater and Larkspur Mysteries are real. Colvannick and the standing stones, Pengelly Farm, Blisland and many of the ancient sites mentioned in the books.

Which is another segue into…

Standing Stones. Fact or Fiction?

Featuring The Colvannick Stone Row

Fact: There are hundreds of ancient sites to visit in Cornwall, including the Colvannick Stone Row, the centre of the first two Larkspur Mysteries. Stone circles, monoliths, ancient settlements, barrows, cairns and fogous can be found almost anywhere in the county, and Bodmin Moor has its fair share. These were the inspiration for the mystery, ‘Keepers of the Past’, where most of what you read is based on existing monuments, history and fact. Most of, note, not all. To find out more, you can read the author’s notes at the back of the book. In the new series, the Larkspur Mysteries, I am putting these notes to give the reader some insight into how I mix fact and fiction. That is something I have been doing since Silas first appeared in ‘Deviant Desire’ looking through the gutters of Greychurch (Whitechapel), while Archer was at home in North Riverside (Knightsbridge), and Fecker was working at the docks in Limedock (Limehouse).

In the up-coming book three, ‘Agents of the Truth’, the characters visit the British Museum Reading Room, the Inns of Court, Newgate and Wormwood Scrubbs prisons, all real and described as they were in 1890. They also visit the Cheap Street Mission (fictional), and meet real one-day famous archaeologists, including Howard Carter, then aged 16. They also get to explore Larkspur Hall and other parts of Cornwall, as will you when you read ‘Agents of the Truth’, due out in February.

The Clearwater Mysteries

The Larkspur Mysteries

Do We Judge a Book by its Cover? Part 2

Do We Judge a Book by its Cover? Part 2

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

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

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

 


 

A Little Morbid

by Olivier Bosman

Book 3 in The John Billings Mysteries

Published February 9, 2021

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

 

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

 

 Why did you choose this cover for your book?

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

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

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

Are you making a statement with the cover?

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

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

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

Do you usually do a cover reveal event?

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

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

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

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

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99 Days

by Matt Converse

Published May 27, 2021

 

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

 

 

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

 

Why did you chose this cover for your book?

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

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

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

Are you making a statement with the cover?

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

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

I go with my gut feeling.

Do you usually do a cover reveal event?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Silly Little Love Songs

by Frank W. Butterfield

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

Published May 18, 2021

(Mystery, Hitman, Elders, Redemption, Billionaires)

 

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

 

Tell us why you chose this cover for your book?

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

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

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

Are you making a statement with the cover?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

Have a great week, Jackson

The Clearwater Inheritance: Blurb, Excerpt and Cover

The Clearwater Inheritance: Blurb, Excerpt and Cover

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

The blurb

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

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

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

Excerpt

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

Between Szeged, Hungary and Vienna, Austria

Saturday 18th January
Night

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

Cover

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

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

Click to see the cover

The Real History Behind The Clearwater Series

Part 2 – Trains

This is the second blog in a series where I look at the real historical events and facts behind my Clearwater Mysteries Series. Today we talk about my love of train travel, how it features in the books and are joined by my personal Railway Guru, Andy.

There is a lot of train travel in The Clearwater Mysteries, and for two reasons. Firstly, in the era in which the books are set, there were no cars or aeroplanes, travel was steam-powered, horse-driven, by sail, or you could walk. Secondly, I’ve always had a thing for travel, maps and routes. Within that is an interest in steam trains, though I am no expert. It must be in my blood, this thing about locomotives, and if it is, I can identify a good reason why.

The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway: A Childhood on the Tracks

It’s ironic, maybe, that I was born in 1963, the year the first Beeching report was undertaken. ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’ sought to streamline the nationalised railways industry and was responsible for identifying 2,363 stations for closure (55%) and 30% of route miles. It’s also interesting that when I was born, my small, fairly remote hometown still had a railway station, and steam trains were still in use on mainlines, although they were being replaced by diesel. However, I can honestly say that the first time I ever travelled by train, it was pulled by a steam locomotive.

New Romney Railway (1966) – YouTube film

A mile from where I was born (in a petrol station and car repair shop, by the way) was, and still is, the central station for the world’s smallest passenger-carrying light railway. That’s the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (RHDR), a 13.5-mile steam railway on a 15-inch gauge. The line was opened in 1927 and later expanded, much used by the military in WWII, and runs today as a popular tourist attraction. When I was at school, my classmates from out of town used it to get to school, and when I was growing up, it was part of my playground. I have childhood memories of not only riding on it but also being at the stations among the steam, playing on the tracks and simply watching the locomotives trailing steam and smoke across the marsh.

As an aside, at some point in the 70s, my godmother, The Dowager Lady Alvingham (on whom Lady Marshall is based in the Clearwater books), showed an interest in buying a castle that stands on a hill overlooking Romney Marsh. At the same time, my uncle, who had a passion for model railways, showed an interest in buying the RHDR. Their plan was to sit in Aunty Dolly’s castle, watching Uncle Hugh’s ‘toy’ trainset chugging across the flatlands below. Sadly, it never came to fruition, but my uncle did give us the model layout he’d built, and my father installed it in our attic. It was a vast landscape about 12 feet by four, had houses with working lights, the Flying Scotsman with real smoke, and provided hours of endless fascination for my brothers and me.

Still Chugging

My interest in train travel is still chugging along. In fact, it is my preferred method of travel. There is something romantic in planning a journey, and sometimes I think I am a frustrated travel agent. I don’t mean popping into Expedia and booking a flight and hotel; I mean looking at a map, working out what railways will get you there, finding the timetables and working out the connections.

Our travel companion, Paddington, at budapest train station

A few years ago, Neil and I decided on a Central European holiday. It was my fault, really. I wanted to travel a few countries by train, so I got out the atlas, Googled a bit, and set to work on a route. Because we live on an island, we had to start the journey by boat and fly to our first destination, Vienna. We were met by Neil’s brother, who lives there, and travelled into the city by train, so that was a good start. After a couple of days there, we moved on, and in the space of a couple of weeks, went from Vienna to Prague to Budapest to Belgrade on a variety of train journeys, some more classy than others.

Me fulfilling a bit of a dream, on a train, in the Carpathian mountains, coming back from Transylvania

Before this, we had been to Romania for my 50th birthday, flying into Bucharest and then taking the train into the Carpathian Mountains to Sighisoara, the alleged birthplace of Vlad Tepes on whom Stoker based Dracula. We also travelled by train to Brasov and stayed there on the way back to Bucharest, and we did all this first-class because, in Europe, ticket prices are often a tenth of the price they are in the UK and elsewhere.

I mention all this because, in the upcoming novel ‘The Clearwater Inheritance,’ some of the characters find themselves travelling by train and visit, among other places, Vienna, Budapest, and Brasov, and they journey through the Carpathian Mountains.

 

Across Canada by train, 2020

One of my life’s ambitions was to travel across Canada by train, a five-day journey from Toronto to Vancouver. (We passed through a place called Clearwater, and stopped at a place called Collins.) This we achieved last year, just before the world was overcome by the virus.

 

 

Seen in Vancouver

Actually, we left Vancouver at the end of the Canadian leg of the journey, the day after the country went into lockdown. Although our trip wasn’t over, we had to cut the London and Athens legs short as there was no point in going there; everything was shut. Rearranging flights at two in the morning while sitting in an airport, buying boat tickets, finding hotels, and wondering whether we might have to travel from London to Athens by hire car or train… Well, for me, that was like a weird dream come true. The travel agent in me kicked in, and we became like continents on ‘The Amazing Race.’

You won’t be surprised to learn I am keen on ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ by Jules Verne.

——————————————————————————-

At this point I thought it would be fun to invite my good friend Andy over tell us a little about himself. He has become my Railway Guru, always willing to answer my questions and check facts for me as I research the series. I asked him where his love of trains came from and how that seed grew.

I first became interested in railways at the age of 10 when my parents unwisely bought me an “ABC” locomotive spotting book to shut me up on an interminable family holiday rail journey from Birmingham to Ilfracombe. They came to very much regret doing this as my bedroom filled up with railway magazines, models, and bits of actual railway equipment. I was already interested in buses as there was a major bus depot a few minutes walk from my house. Through the teenage years the interests became more advanced with much borrowing of books from the library, and at the same time steam was disappearing from the UK national railway network. No doubt all that reading about how things came to be the way they were encouraged me to take a University degree in history, and then start a career in transport management (buses in this case). A switch to managing freight transport followed, and then manufacturing industry.

So great that your childhood hobby grew into your career. And I know that even now in retirement you have managed to carry on in a new capacity…

The view of the Booking Officer

Yes, after semi-retirement I took up a part-time position at my local heritage steam railway as Booking Office Supervisor, surrounded by 1898 vintage buildings, real working steam trains, and a superb shop selling second hand railway books. I have also added looking at ferries and aircraft to my transport studies.

When not doing this I like reading fiction, often set in the late-Victorian, Edwardian, 1920/30/40s era, and sneering at authors who get their railway facts wrong (and so often their geography too). Being used as a consultant on your “Clearwater” series was immensely satisfying as a result.

Thank you Andy and I really think that maybe it will be your turn next to write a book!

——————————————————————————-

So back to my writing and how I use trains in the Clearwater Mysteries.

The first time a train appears is in chapter one of book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’.

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

That’s the only time an underground train is mentioned in the series, but overground trains start to feature from then on. I started this book with an ending in mind. I wanted one of those classic ‘fight on the roof of a moving train’ moments and wanted to add in men on horseback riding alongside, someone (James) inching along the outside of the trucks, the villain doing away with the driver, and the train racing out of control towards a fiery end… And that’s exactly what you get.

Archer wasn’t far behind, galloping from the ridge to the rear of the train and encouraging his mount with his crop. The horse knew its purpose and worked with him, delivering him up the embankment to the backplate. The viscount drew level with the last car, stood in the stirrups, and grabbed the rail. With one great leap, he left the saddle and swung his legs across to the car. He landed first time and clambered aboard as the horse veered off and slowed. Archer wasted no time climbing to the roof, and James turned his attention to the engine.

‘Jimmy!’ Archer was above him, fighting the wind for his balance. ‘Warn the driver. Stop the train.’

Everything was shadows and speed, gusts and fumes as James fought his way to the next car. Wooden, it offered a narrow walkway, making it easier for him to pass, but there were no handholds apart from cracks in the planking where he dug his fingertips, pressing his body flat against the side. He didn’t know how many more cars there were before the tender, but the headlamps were still a way off. The driver was expecting to continue straight on and was steaming the engine hard. [Twisted Tracks, chapter 24.]

Fallen Splendour and Other Journeys

Trains appear again in book four, ‘Fallen Splendour.’ For this one, I wanted another tense sequence and included a race against time. In this case, I had to get James from London to the Welsh coast to collect Archer and get them both back to the High Court in London in as few hours as possible. Initially, I thought I had not left myself enough time and thought I might have to rewrite some chapters because the time I had given James to achieve his task seemed unreasonably short. Then I referred to my railways guru, Andy, and he told me about ‘specials.’ Apparently, if you had enough money and clout, you could have the railways put on a special train just for you, and this, they could do with a few hours’ notice. Perfect! Of course, being a Clearwater novel, I didn’t go for just any old special, which is why Archer finds himself steaming through the night in Queen Victoria’s royal carriage.

Bitter Bloodline’ (book five) starts with a train crash. ‘Artful Deception’ (book six) takes us across the English Channel and on a relatively short journey to the Netherlands and back, plus another train journey to Derbyshire. In book seven, ‘Home From Nowhere’, Jasper encounters his first journey by train.

Jasper’s fear soon gave way to intrigue when the train moved, and became awe when it picked up speed. It wasn’t long before he began to enjoy the rhythmic trundling, and the only time he thought he was going to die was when they passed through a tunnel. The

sound was deafening, smoke poured in through the window, and the carriage was plunged into darkness. It was over in seconds, leaving the footman struggling with the window, and Jasper shaking.

Train journeys are also featured in books eight and nine, but when we reach book ten… Well, that’s when I thought it was time to branch out from the domestic lines and go intercontinental.

The Clearwater Inheritance

You know how I am with ‘Dracula’, the epistolary novel to end all epistolary novels in my opinion… I employ a little of this ‘story in journals, letters, and other documents’ style in The Clearwater Inheritance.

Dracula opens with Jonathan Harker writing about his journey from Munich to Bistritz (now called Bistrita), travelling through Vienna and Budapest. Two of my characters take the same route because they are also travelling to Transylvania (though that’s got nothing to do with vampires).

I may have travelled on similar routes, but not, obviously, in the same century or on the same kind of trains, so I had to do some research into how such a journey would have been. You know how you sometimes get lucky? I put a search string into the search engine that read something like this: ‘Travelling in Europe in 1890’, and what should I find in a book collection?

Travels in Various Parts of Europe During the Years 1888, 1889 and 1890, Being a short and practical account, by Gilbert H. W. Harrison (with 24 illustrations).

I couldn’t have asked for anything better and was able to draw on first-person accounts of Folkestone, the channel crossing, Paris, Vienna, Budapest and parts of Hungary as they had been experienced in the same year as my story. I even have my characters stay at or mention hotels and stations Harrison saw and described.

Harrison was on a tourist route, however, and my characters follow the same route until they realise Thomas Cook & Son haven’t grasped the urgency of their journey. There are other delays, and backstory from ‘Banyak & Fecks’ comes into play at one point, as do other pre-mentioned backstories concerting Lady Clearwater’s Romanian/Transylvanian connections and other things to do with Archer’s past. Ultimately, my travelling characters need to get back to England in a hurry.

The map created for ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ based on one from 1912. All rights reserved. Dark lines and lighter solid lines show the Orient Express routes, dotted lines are the characters’ other routes.

Again, I spoke to Andy about this side of the story and asked how long it would have taken from Bodmin in Cornwall to Brasov in what is now Romania in 1890. He came back with suggested times and routes. Finding original timetables is never easy, but I reckon, in the story, I am as close to what was possible as I can be. For the return journey, though, I needed to speed things up a bit and so looked into using the Express d’Orient, the Orient Express as we now call it.

A timetable from The Orient Express

A couple of chapters happen aboard this luxury train, but this is not an Agatha Christie, and the journey to and from Brasov is only one aspect of the story, but again, I tried to be as accurate as possible, at least with descriptions and distances. I had to reschedule the Orient Express to a different day, else the rest of the plot wouldn’t work, but apart from that, the race home is, as far as I can see, accurate, if a little tight. The characters have an awful lot of luck making steamers and ‘very early’ trains, but hey, it’s fiction and fact mixed, faction, you might say, and it was all possible.

End of the line

Is book ten the end of the line for Clearwater? Has the series finally reached its destination? All I can say is, running at 150,000 words, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ is the longest of the stories, and it does have a sense of rounding things off. It also has a sense of leaving something open for another series set in the same world, and it is that idea I will be considering once this book has been published.

Look out for my newsletter at the start of June, as there will be an extract from the book included as a special preview for those who sign up. (There won’t be any plot spoilers.)

I must go now, but I will add a list of references I have used for my railway research as a guide for anyone who is interested to know more.

Books:


 

Journal of the Society of Arts (1891), Austro-Hungarian Railways and the Zone System
London Daily News 1890 (and other newspapers of the time)

Online:

GlobalSecurity.org (on which my map of the route is based) https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/europe/orient-express.htm

The Man In Seat 61

 

 

An Interview with Andrej: AKA, Fecker

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

Andrej Borysko Yakiv Kolisnychenko

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

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

Serbka Village, Odessa Oblast, Ukraine, 2014

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

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

Deviant Desire

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

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

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

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

Twisted Tracks

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

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

Unspeakable Acts

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

Serbka, Ukraine

Andrej, what happened to your family? 

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

Fallen Splendour

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

Inspiration for the drawing of Andrej (below).

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

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

Bitter Bloodline

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

Artful Deception

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

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

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

Home From Nowhere & One Of A Pair

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

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

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

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

Banyak & Fecks

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

Young Banyak (right) and Fecks taken in 1887

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

Negative Exposure

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

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

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

I’ll finish by asking Andrej one more question.

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

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

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

The Clearwater Inheritance: Working on the first draft

The Clearwater Inheritance: Working on the first draft

I am currently at 90,000 words of the first draft of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, the Clearwater Mysteries, Book Ten. I thought you might like to know how it was going and what research has gone into what promises to be the longest of the Clearwater novels.

I will have to be vague about some aspects of the story because I don’t want to give away any spoilers. I’m sure you’ll understand. What I can tell you, though, is that this may be the last of the Clearwater mysteries as we know them. I have an idea for a second series of books set in the Clearwater world, but with new characters, and we will see how that develops once ‘Inheritance’ is done and dusted.

Developing the Cast

My desk this morning.

The series started in 1888 in London’s East End during the Ripper’s terror, and what started as a standalone insta-love story soon took on a life of its own. It was to be about two main characters, a street-rat renter, Silas Hawkins, and a young viscount, Clearwater. Halfway through writing ‘Deviant Desire’, however, I started to enjoy the research and characters so much, I decided to write a sequel. Andrej (Fecker’s) character took on more significance, and so did that of Thomas, the footman and life-long friend of Clearwater (and, if we are to be honest, the unrequited love interest).

For book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’, I wanted Thomas to have his own love interest and was already considering the background to book three, part of which I wanted to set around the famous Cleveland Street Scandal. Thus, when book two opens, we meet a messenger, James Wright. Each character has his own flaws and skills, but the characters develop through a series of trials, tribulations, successes and failures, and are still developing. Book seven, ‘Home From Nowhere’, introduced two more main players, Jasper Blackwood and Billy Barnett, bringing the ‘canonical five’ MCs up to seven. With ‘Negative Exposure’, the number of episodes in the series reached nine plus one prequel.

The stage is set for part ten, and it will be something of an epic.

The Clearwater Inheritance

The story starts at the end of book nine, and the challenge is set in the last few lines of ‘Negative Exposure.’
The person who holds our future in the stroke of a pen goes by the name of Cooper Raglan.’

You will find that some storylines and character’s personal journeys in book ten were started as far back as the prequel. For example, ‘Inheritance’ is set in January 1890, but one through-line has its roots in 1881. The on-going story of Archer’s maniac brother, Crispin, comes into play, as does his mother’s death, his ancestry and Larkspur Hall. The ‘crew’, now of seven main players, must employ all their individual skills to survive the story, and you’re going to find some of my favourite devices and settings.

Rasnov Citadel. I visited there in 2013.

There is a mystery, of course, and there is a code to be deciphered. Music again plays a big part in the story, as do the railways, and there is a legal element to be figured out. Although I have part-invented some of the legalities because the laws around inheritance have never been easy to understand or explain, I’ve put that matter in the hands of Sir Easterby Creswell, the barrister, because he has a knack of explaining things in one or two sentences. A castle is also involved, but not just any old castle. I have mixed fact with fiction and have sent two of my characters to Rasnov, which is now in Romania. In 1890, I believe, it was in Transylvania.

What there isn’t in ‘Inheritance’ is a love story, and so, what started out as an MM romance series with ‘Deviant Desire’, has now become a mystery series with one underlying love theme. Not a romance, as such, but something I find romantic. And that is, the love of friends, particularly, male love of male friends, what we might now call bromance. Some of my pairs are still in love with each other and always will be, but the series has always been about (mainly) gay men bonding as men. Being set in 1888 to 1890, it’s set against the background of homosexuality being illegal (and not yet even being called homosexuality). That has always been the canvas on which the Clearwater world is painted. That and the class divide, the upstairs/downstairs world, the Liberals against the Tories, equality versus snobbery, right against wrong, and acceptance.

Researching ‘Inheritance’

That’s some background. Now we’re on a research tour.

I started ‘Inheritance’ with a timeline plan because I knew that there were to be three main storylines, and I needed to keep track of where everyone was at any one time. I have used the technique of telling parts of the story through letters, as characters do in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This is a handy device for a few reasons.

One, letters can impart exposition to the reader without bogging down the action. Two, readers get into the character’s mind. Three, they give the narrative a sense of time and place – of being real. Four, letters can be intercepted or lost, thereby adding to the tension.

However, only part of the ‘Inheritance’ narrative is presented in letters, unlike ‘Dracula’, which is an epistolary novel (written as a series of documents). If you want to read one of my completely epistolary novels, then I point you to ‘The Stoker Connection.’

For realness, I have again used genuine sections from newspapers of the time which I find in the British Newspaper Archives. You need to subscribe to get the full benefit, but it is well worth it. I also find background information such as costs and times of trains, adverts for medicines and other matters, reports of concerts and events, and all these small details make the story more real.

Musical Code & Philip Thicknesse

I swear I did not make up that man’s last name!

Part of the musical code as it stands at the moment.

The outcome of Clearwater’s problem in ‘Inheritance’ relies on the cracking of a code. In this case, a musical code, and so, I needed to turn my mind to how this might be achieved. Did you know, JS Bach, Mozart, Brahms and others employed codes so they could write messages in their music? Bach’s use of code is quite famous and yet simple.

There are seven letters employed in musical notation, A to G, but in Bach’s time, the note B-natural was named H, and B-flat was B. Thus, Bach was able to score B-flat, A, C, and H (what we now call B), and thus make his name, BACH, sound as a melody. Brahms wrote the name of his (assumed) lover in one of his pieces, minus one letter, and there are all kinds of theories around what Mozart may have done in The Magic Flute.

I didn’t want my musical code to be too complicated because although it might be fun for me to be devious, overly-clever codes need explaining to the reader, which bogs down a narrative. While inventing my code, though, I turned up a book from 1772 by a man called Philip Thicknesse. This has the snappy title of “A Treatise On The Art Of Deciphering, And Of Writing In Cypher: With An Harmonic Alphabet”, and you can find it at Forgotten Books and other outlets. I’ll be honest, I haven’t read all of it yet, and it’s not an easy read, what with the letter S printed as an F and all that florid language, but it did set me on the right track for the simple code around which I could base the mystery.

Locations

Another facet of ‘Inheritance’ is the location. Rather, locations, because I have set the story in three. London, Larkspur Hall and Europe.

Austria-Hungary (ethnic, 1890, with red 1914 and blue 1920 borders)

Europe. I mean, how big does an author want their location to be? In my story, two of the characters must travel from Cornwall to what is now Romania and back, and in 1890 the way to go was by train. Actually, by several trains and a boat, plus a carriage or two, and their final destination is, of course, a remote one.

For train information, I again turned to my expert friend, Andy Ward, and asked him how long such a journey would take. In a nutshell, the answer was, It will take 107 hours to get from Bodmin to Brasov/Brasso, including a 15 hour overnight stop in Vienna. My characters then only have to travel ten miles to Rasnov castle. Coming back, it’s quicker because there are only 5 hours in Vienna, but the route is similar, total time 96 hours.

In the story, my characters stop off in Paris for a night. They are invited to the Hofburg, the Emperor’s palace in Vienna where they meet Brahms, sleep the night at Budapest railway station, put up at a guest house in Brasov, and travel through the worsening influenza pandemic which was still running riot across Europe in 1890. Oh, and it’s January, remember, so it’s cold and not at all comfortable.

London. Meanwhile, two other main characters are dispatched to London to search the Clearwater archives kept by the solicitor, Mr Marks. While there, they must interview the barrister Creswell to see if there are any archaic inheritance laws that may stop the villain from doing what he intends to do. This sees one of our MCs accidentally appearing in the High Court (because I do like a courtroom scene), and brings in a couple of other cameo characters we’ve met in previous novels.

Larkspur Hall

Larkspur Hall. The viscount’s country home is a large, rambling pile of mixed architecture and history which deserves a novel all of its own. In ‘Inheritance’, we get to meet some new staff and find out more about the Hall, which we’ve only been to briefly in ‘Fallen Splendour’ and for longer in ‘Bitter Bloodline.’ I have not yet mapped the Hall, although its basic plan is in my head, but I have used various sources for inspiration, mainly ‘The Victorian Country House’ by Mark Girouard, which has very informative text and plenty of excellent images and plans.

I have my A4 notepad beside me as I write this blog, and in it, I have several pages of notes and reminders I have made along the way. This is without the Word documents and other electronic things I have in my ‘Book 10′ folder. They include Thicknesses’ book in Pdf, maps of Eastern Europe from the late 19th century, and another book which was exactly what I needed, ‘Travels in Various Parts of Europe During the Years 1888, 1889 and 1890’ by Gilbert H. W. Harrison. (Google books.) He gives accounts of travelling from London to Paris, to Vienna to Budapest, and that’s the route I have used for my two characters, who had their journey set up by Thomas Cook and Son of the Strand. You see? I like to keep it real.

Meanwhile, my notes. Here is a snippet of what goes through my mind when I am creating one of my mysteries, as found in my scrawly handwriting.

Billy sniffing. Flu later?
Silas does this without Archer knowing. (Does what? I have no idea, I can’t remember now.)
Code? 12 major, 12 minor = 24 x two volumes = 48. 1 x P + 1 x F = 2 x 12 = 24.
1859 Archer, 1829 dad, 1800 grandfather.
Count Movileşti (real family, Moldavian).
The Hall 14th century, tower, main hall. Abbey. Celtic monks, St Crannock pre 1066.
James’ birthday, Jan 10th, he’s just turned 27.
Freiherr (baron) Kubinsky.
A B C D E F G

And then, in a box of its own: Remove Duncan from story and use later.

Onwards to the future…

Duncan is a day-player we meet briefly in book nine, and I wrote him in intending to use him in book ten. The trouble is, he doesn’t now fit, and so, I have decided I may bring him into whatever comes after book ten.

That may well be ‘The Larkspur Academy Mysteries’, but on that subject, I shall remain quiet for now, because, as I finish, I have two characters in a blizzard in Transylvania, three suffering in the Clearwater Archive in Chancery Lane, a sick housekeeper, a broken telegraph system, huge news from abroad that’s about to cause the final countdown to kick in, and somebody vital has started to feel very unwell.

My characters are waiting for me. I have left them in limbo and must go and see to them.

Jasper Blackwood at the piano.

Oh, before I do. One last thing. As ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ includes the cracking of a musical code, the character of Jasper Blackwood plays a large part. Jasper, or Pianino as Fecker calls him, is 18 and a musical genius. This coming Wednesday, 31st March, you can find an interview with him over at the MM Fiction Café.

Developing a Series

My Two Year Journey Through The Clearwater World

Just over two years ago, I decided to write a standalone book taking the premise: ‘What if Jack the Ripper had killed male prostitutes?’ I wanted it to have elements of mystery and romance, but essentially, to be a thriller. By the time I had finished the first draft of ‘Deviant Desire’, I had realised that the story was unfinished because ‘Jack’ was never caught. Therefore, I thought I should write a sequel, and the premise there would be, ‘Why did the killings suddenly stop?’ So, I started on ‘Twisted Tracks’, and as I was writing that, I realised I had created a group of characters and a world that cried out to be an ongoing series. Two years later, there are nine mystery books in the series, one non-mystery prequel, and I am working on book ten.

Today, I thought it would be interesting to look back over the journey from Deviant Desire to the present day and see the development of The Clearwater Mysteries.

(If you click on the photos you will open up the blog posts from along the way).


Deviant Desire, Book One

March 8th, 2019

First book in the series published

 

The standalone story was ready to go to publication. I had completed the book, found a cover designer, Andjela K, and a proof-reader, Anne Attwood, and had managed the layout of the book myself. Deviant Desire was published, and although I didn’t know at the time, it was to become my top-selling title and the first in a popular series. I’d hit a nerve, or tapped a seam, or stirred imagination or something, and because I thought it was the best book I’d written so far, I was more than pleased.

Other Worlds

As well as creating the characters and the mystery plot, I also developed a world. I incorporate fact with fiction in my historical mysteries, but I change the original world because I need to take liberties and use artistic licence. For example, Whitechapel becomes Greychurch in my imaginary London, although descriptions of the place are based on authentic sources.

Other Worlds Ink took me on a book tour

As I was writing book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’, I decided that I could do with some help with publicity, and so I turned to Other Worlds Ink to arrange a blog tour for me. This ran from April 29th to May 12th, 2019, and was the first such tour I had undertaken.

One of the guest posts they arranged for me can be seen on MM Good Book Reviews and was published on May 4th.

Twisted Tracks, Book Two

May 2019

Deviant Desire was now building momentum and selling well. Reviews were coming in, and they were, at first, a little mixed. I must admit that one was scathing, but when I read it, I realised that it was probably written by someone who was livid because they’d not thought of the idea themselves. They gave away some of the plot twists (which is unforgivable in a review), and other plot points they mentioned were inaccurate. I wasn’t daunted, however, and book sales were better than any of my other novels, and so I pressed on.

Book Two saw the momentum continue

 

The publication of Twisted Tracks coincided with the book tour, which helped sales enormously. Readers who enjoyed book one could instantly move on to the ‘to be continued’ story in book two and Twisted started to pick up sales, readers and reviews from the week of its publication.

 

Unspeakable Acts, Book Three

Book Three sees the Viscount launching his foundation to help the street boys of the East End

Come June of that year, I decided that I needed to leave the Ripper element aside (at least for now), and turn my attention to what else was going on in Victorian London in 1888. Researching the life and work of Victorian rent boys threw up little, as it is not a much-discussed topic, but I had previously read about a scandal that involved a male brothel in Cleveland Street in 1889, and had that at the back of my mind as a setting for one of the future Clearwater Books. However, I couldn’t wait until 1889. I invented my own potential scandal based in my world and employed a male brothel in Cleaver Street.

The Royal Opera House, London, one of the settings for ‘Unspeakable Acts’

Another of my areas of fascination is the theatre. So, I combined the Cleveland Street scandal (my version), the Royal Opera House (factual) and an imaginary opera into book three, Unspeakable Acts, and this was published in early June.

The series was building momentum, and I knew that I was on a roll, but what next?

 

A writing retreat

June 2019

Tilos – the perfect writers’ retreat

Not being a great fan of writers’ workshops and getaways where strangers pick apart each other’s work and someone tells you how you should write, I don’t go on group retreats. However, that year, I decided I could do with some solo time to work on the next book. I found myself an apartment on an island near ours, an island called Tilos, and booked myself a week of solitude. Tilos is home to only 200 people, and it offers peace, quiet, a village square for evening relaxation and plenty of solo-time walking and ‘chilling.’ I went there in June 2019 armed with my laptop and a book of Tennyson poems.

Fallen Splendour, Book Four

Book four and the feeling that maybe that was the end

I had so much invested in my characters by now, I wasn’t worried about books sales. It was what was going on in the lives of my Clearwater crew (as a fan named them) that was important, and the series had gathered so much momentum, it was hard to conceive it would ever finish. I sat down at my keyboard in my rented apartment overlooking the sea and laid out my tools for part four. A kidnapping, a coded message, and a race to rescue the victim. Simple, but tied up with a poem by Tennyson.

I wrote 35,000 words in the five days I was on Tilos, and work continued when I returned home to Symi. Andjela came up with another perfect cover, and Fallen Splendour was released on June 15th.

 

It was hard to think that this might be the last book. There is the feeling with the last chapter that suggests the series is ending, and, if it were a film, the camera would pull away from the five main characters looking down over the splendour of Larkspur Hall at Christmas as we fade out…. Cut.

But…

An interlude

Autumn 2019

I needed to return to my other series, The Saddling series (by James Collins, my real name), because it should have four parts, and I’d only written three. I tried to leave Clearwater alone and work on part four of Saddling, but after plotting, researching and putting together 40,000 words, I realised that what I was doing was transporting some Clearwater elements into Saddling, and they are two completely different worlds. The message-to-self here was that I needed to continue Clearwater. I wasn’t done with it yet. I was having too much fun. I’d covered the Ripper, the Cleveland Street scandal, Opera, Tennyson, kidnapping, coded messages, train crashes, what else was there?

There was Larkspur Hall.

Bitter Bloodline, Book Five

So far, Clearwater had existed mainly in London, but the Viscount also owns a massive country house with 16 bedrooms, a tower, a ruined abbey, a village and everything else that went with great stately homes of the past. I was also hooked on the idea of involving real people, and so, Bitter Bloodline (which has a bit of a Dracula influence without the vampires) was created to showcase Bram Stoker, Henry Irving and others.

Book five is published

So, during the latter part of 2019, I worked on Bitter Bloodline, broke into the Lyceum theatre, researched poisons and how the Borgia’s managed to poison dinner guests (not that the Borgia’s were in the story), planned a rough landscape of Larkspur, bought an OS map of Bodmin Moor, where the house is, and learnt a fair amount about Transylvanian wine. Bitter Bloodline was published in early November 2019.

That’s five books in only eight months. Five very successful books, I should add, and full length at an average of 95,000 words each. Clearwater was taking over my life.

Into 2020

And now we take a siding because, while I was writing approximately half a million words into five books, I had also retired. Rather, semi-retired on a private pension scheme from years ago which allowed me to take a holiday of a lifetime.

The Royal Opera House, part of our whirlwind stay in London

As Neil and I left Symi in March 2020, rumours were spreading that due to covid-19, towns and cities might have to close down, and the world was in for a pandemic. We had booked a trip to Canada and had been looking forward to it for 14 months. It didn’t feel like the best time to travel, but at the same time, our insurance wouldn’t cover us if we cancelled.

We went via Athens and London, where I could visit some of the Clearwater scenes, the Lyceum theatre, for example, and the National Gallery where book six’s opening was to be set. We had a fantastic time crossing Canada by train, but by the time we reached Vancouver, the epidemic had become a pandemic, and all those places we’d seen had closed behind us. We were among the last to have dinner atop the CN Tower, we were on the last cross-Canada excursion train, on one of the last flights out of Vancouver, and had an adventure of our own trying to get home that was worthy of Clearwater himself.

 

Artful Deception, Book Six

May 2020

Book six released

But reach home we did, and it was straight back to work for me. Book Six in the series, Artful Deception, was released on May 30th, 2020. I wanted this one to finally finish off the Ripper story of books one and two, and again, there was a feeling that it would be the last in the series. I wrote it, released it, and that was, in a way, that. I don’t know why I didn’t give it the same attention as the others, I think my mind was on what to write next, but it didn’t matter. The series had picked up so much momentum, it had a life of its own, but I wanted to write something… calmer.

Home From Nowhere, Book Seven

August 2020

Full of more historical research and one of my favourite subjects, music

This story grew out of a character we briefly met in Artful Deception – a hall boy working for the evil Earl Kingsclere. What would it have been like, I wondered, to be a young man of 17 trapped in the world of working below stairs with no hope of going anywhere? What would happen if that young man had an incredible talent from birth? How could this be a mystery? Not only did I want a cosy, not too tense mystery, I also wanted a love story.

Clearwater exists in the world of Victorian Britain when to be gay meant disgrace and imprisonment, and that is the confine of everyone in my world; all the gay characters, I mean – and most of the leading players are gay. For the mystery, I once again turned to music and real people. For the love story, I turned to two opposing characters: a cheeky, rough-diamond Cockney, Billy Barnett, and a mild-mannered slightly ‘on the spectrum,’ hall boy, Jasper Blackwood. (The name came first, and as I wanted him to be a dichotomy, I gave him a name you might expect of a Penny Dreadful villain.)

Passionate about the research and the details of historical fiction

There is a lot of historical fact in the background of Home From Nowhere, particularly around who the parents turn out to be. By now, my reference bookshelves were bulging with all the books I’d bought to inform my Clearwater world.

I think Home From Nowhere has received more praise and more five stars than any of the other books to date, and Jasper and Billy are currently playing significant parts in book ten, which is still being written.

One of a Pair, Book Eight

And still, the momentum continued. We are into August 2020 now, and as it is the month of my brother’s birthday, and as he was a chemist before he retired, I innocently asked him about unusual poisons, as you do. He gave me the idea for the slightly unlikely but completely possible twist I needed to make One of a Pair work, and once I had that the rest of the mystery more or less wrote itself. My scatter-brained character, Doctor Markland, appears in this book by popular demand, there was much research to do on chemicals and train travel, and this, like Fallen Splendour, was a book that more or less wrote itself.

Book eight released

It also competed the love story begun in Home From Nowhere and is another ‘cosy’ mystery, though with a little more tension.

A cover note: One of a Pair was also the first time I have found a photo of a character and based the character’s description around the image. Usually, it’s the other way around. Jasper Blackwood appears on the cover.

 

 

Looking forward to the past

We are up to September 2020, and I am in a more literary mood.

Slumming, just one of the subjects researched for the series

I wanted to try a book that was not reliant on a complicated, twisting mystery plot. I also wanted to know more about the two characters who began the series, Silas Hawkins and Andrej Kolisnychenko. Or, as they are known to each other through nicknames, Banyak and Fecker (Fecks). Silas is the son of an Irish immigrant, Fecker is a Ukrainian refugee. They met in 1884, lived together as friends, and worked together as renters, but when we meet them in Deviant Desire, they already have a strong bond that you might these days call a bromance. Fecker is straight, Silas is gay, and nothing happens between them sexually (not these days), yet they love each other.

So, I thought, how did that all come about?

Banyak & Fecks, The Prequel

November 2020

The prequel

That’s how Banyak & Fecks was born, and it is probably the most researched book in the series. It’s a prequel, and by the time One of a Pair (book eight) came out, Banyak & Fecks was already in the first draft stage. By now, my assistant Jenine was on board and doing all kinds of magical things to boost sales and develop my website and reputation. That’s why we now have interviews with other writers, more in-depth articles like this one, cover reveals and competitions. She keeps busy while I write books.

But for all that, I wasn’t sure where to go next. I wanted the series to continue because I didn’t feel like I was quite done with it yet, and I didn’t want to say goodbye to my characters. But was it running out of steam?

Apparently not.

November 2020

During 2020, apart from travelling across Canada and narrowly avoiding a pandemic, I had also started on a Clearwater mystery titled ‘Men of a Similar Heart.’ This involved a murder at a boarding school in 1877, and I reached the 60k word mark relatively quickly. Then, it did run out of steam and was going nowhere. I had four different openings of the story, but none of them fitted. I had some great characters, but I had seven main characters and loads of secondary ones by now. There were subplots of forbidden longing between my main couples, Silas and Archer, James and Thomas, but because I’d stepped away from 1889 and gone back in time, something was getting in my way…

Negative Exposure, Book Nine

erotic photography paved the way for book nine

It turned out to be pornography. Well, erotic photographs of the past.

There is an incident in Banyak & Fecks that moves the Andrej/Silas relationship forward. I hit upon the idea that this incident from 1886 might come back to haunt Silas in 1889, and that’s how Negative Exposure came about. Once I realised that was where the story was going, it was easy to write, and while I was writing it, I became aware that a new series was now waiting in the wings.

However, before I can get to that, I need to finish the Clearwater collection, and book nine, Negative Exposure, lays the groundwork for the plot of book ten and plants the seed for the next series.

Onwards to the Beginning 

Book nine with a new cover concept

 Negative Exposure was released in February 2021, 20 months after releasing Deviant Desire, and brought the series up to just under one-million words in total. (I have been through four keyboards in that time.) The story is more akin to the earlier ones, with a mystery leading to a deadline and a chase. It is tenser than the likes of Home From Nowhere and ends with the crew gathering for Christmas at Larkspur Hall, as they do at the end of Fallen Splendour. However, it also ends on a twist that I only decided upon when writing the penultimate chapter. It was one of those ‘light bulb’ moments, and as soon as I wrote the last line, I thought, ‘Oh bugger. How do I get myself out of that?’

The Clearwater Inheritance, Book Ten

January 2021

Manchester Weekly Times and Examiner, 11 Jan 1890, Sat Page 2

Book ten will pick up where book nine left off. What Lord Clearwater said in his last speech means it has to (damn the man!), so, as I write, I am researching all manner of things from European train travel in 1890 to personal telegraph systems, legal entails and inheritance law of the 19th century. I have several scenes plotted, some including a selection of my favourite characters from the past. I am referencing people and events from ten previous books while getting to grips with the imaginary Larkspur Hall layout and its 50 + rooms. I am also making parallels with today’s pandemic, as there was one ravaging the world in January 1890, and all the time, laying more groundwork for the series that will follow.

For this, the future of Clearwater, I have decided that my Clearwater characters will still exist and appear but will be the background to a set of new people and others who we might already know who will play larger parts in a slightly different series. I can’t say much more than that right now because this is still very much in the planning stage, and, speaking honestly, I am not 100% sure how it will start or where it will go. But it’s there somewhere in the recesses of my imagination and only needs some kind of deviant desire on my part to bring it out.

It has been two years since I wrote the first line of what was meant to be a standalone romantic thriller; Silas Hawkins was searching for coins in an East End gutter when a man four miles distant and ten years older sealed his fate. I didn’t know it then, but young Mr Hawkins had sealed my fate, at least for the time being.

The Clearwater Series, available from Amazon on Kindle or paperback