The Clearwater Mysteries: Opening Lines

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

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

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


Andrej

Late summer, 1881
Serbka, Ukraine

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


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



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


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

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


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


Folkestone Harbour, April 1889

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


London, July 1889

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


27th July 1889. Kingsclere House, Hampshire

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


Clearwater House, London
September 1889

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


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

THE INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC.
Two London Cases.

Thousands of sufferers in Berlin.

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


Rasnov Castle, Transylvania

January 1890

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


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

Work in Progress: 1892

The latest update is a brief one: I am now working through the last draft to check the proofs, and Andjela has sent me the full cover. Except the link to the file transfer site got lost in my spam folder and now I’ve found the email, it comes without the link, so I am waiting for another. It’ll take me a while to check through the MS and then have the pages set out ready for publication, but you’ll definitely be able to get hold of this feel-good Christmas collection well before Christmas Day.

If you are a member of my private Facebook group, Jackson’s Deviant Desires, you will be able to get a free copy, and I will let you know how in the group pages when the time comes.

Meanwhile, I must now get back to ‘Follow the Van,’ the third Delamere Files instalment. I have put it off for a while to work on ‘1892’ and some other (paid!) writing work I had in. In this case, it was a set of stories for two German magazines. They get translated into German but also appear in the magazines in English. These are twink adults-only magazines published in Germany and on sale throughout Europe. I won’t provide links, but if you want to search them out, one is called PornUp and the other is called DreamBoys. Both are top-shelf magazines, so watch how you investigate!

That aside, I aim to be back following the van by the end of this week when 1892 will be ready for laying out, and I can forget those stories and concentrate on where I was.

Meanwhile, don’t forget the Clearwater Calendar will be on sale only until the end of the year, and don’t forget to join my private FB group so you can claim a free copy of 1892 as soon as it is ready.

Taking a Break and Why

This week, I wanted to let you know that I will be taking a break until 15th April. Why? Well, there are two reasons.

It’s important for writers to take breaks

I don’t think I’ve had a break from writing for the past four years. Even when I have been away, I have had a book in my head, a notebook with me, and I’ve been planning and plotting while travelling. Then, on my return, I’ve dived straight back into the story. However, next week, I am going away for a week, and I have no story in my head. I’ve just finished the Clearwater and Larkspur series of 18 novels, and am about to move on to something new.

What?

That’s the question and the reason for the break. I know I want to write something set in the same time period, late 19th century England, but if I launch straight in, there’s a danger I will write the same characters as I wrote for the previous series but under different names. There’s also the possibility I will repeat my story themes, and I want to come up with new mysteries, characters, and a new series. Some things will be the same (a mix of fact/fiction, bromance/romance, fun, adventure and nasty villains), while others will change, and if I start now, the chances are what I write will be too similar.

Similar is good, because people obviously like the characters, time, plots and mysteries I have been writing (I had five of my books in Amazon’s top 100 list for LGBT Historical Mystery this week), so something similar is what’s called for. However, too similar and everyone will say, ‘It’s just the same thing.’ Hence, a two-week break.

But…

Having said that, I do have an idea or two and will no doubt think about them while I am away, but the pressure will be to work on newness, and not simply come up with a plot. I must start with a character or two, the MC and the IC, and get them firmly fixed in my mind before I start on detail. I have already started researching and gathering some notes and ideas, because there’s no point not writing down ideas, but I’ve not yet started on Chapter One. These images represent today’s musings…

By the way, MC stands for Main Character, and IC for Impact Character. As we had Lord Clearwater as the MC in the Clearwater series, so we had Silas Hawkins as the IC, the one who makes an impact on the MC’s life, aims and actions. As the series progressed, we had other MCs and ICs, such as James Wright in ‘Twisted Tracks’ and Thomas (as the IC). In the Larkspur series, we had Dalston Blaze as the MC of ‘Guardians of the Poor’, and Clearwater as the IC (who was also the protagonist, because your MC doesn’t have to be the protagonist). Later, we had Chester Cadman as the MC in ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ and Frank Andino as the IC, and so it goes on.

Where to?

No doubt you are wondering what his new series idea is and where it is going to. Well, you’re not alone, because so am I. You may also be wondering where I am travelling to, and the answer is simple and exciting. I am taking one of my godsons to Prague for a few days. He’s been learning piano and music with me (as it’s not taught in our island school), and I can’t think of a better place than Prague for music and culture – not on my budget, at least.

So, we have a classical lunchtime concert lined up for one day (at the Lobkowicz Palace), a performance of ‘The Magic Flute’ at one of the opera houses, and a boat cruise/dinner with varied live music another evening. Those are the highlights, but along the way, I am aiming to view various other cultural sights he won’t see on our island, and probably not in Greece. I’m thinking of cathedrals, the museum of music, the astronomical clock, the Klementinum, other museums, and simply just the lifestyle and architecture. So, an exciting, if exhausting, time is planned. We’ll only be there for four nights/three days, but there’s a two-day journey to get there from here, and a three-night journey to get back. All part of the experience.

We arrive back during ‘Great Week’, the week leading up to Easter Sunday, so as soon as we step off the boat, we will be into dynamite, celebrations and festivities that come with a Greek Easter on Symi. I’ll blog about all this and the new series idea as soon as I get back.

So, that’s why I’m not going to be around for two weeks, and who knows what story ideas I will come back with. Keep reading!

Work In Progress: 5.16

The end of the line.

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

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

As for the next work in progress,

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

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

Cover Reveal The Larkspur Legacy

Over the next couple of weeks, whilst we wait for The Larkspur Legacy to be published, we (that’s the Royal ‘we’, i.e. Jenine, my P.A.) thought it may be fun to look at the other professionals behind my books. Those people who help transform my file on a computer into a real life published and saleable book.

To start the ball rolling, and to coincide with my cover reveal today, we are talking covers and cover art with a chance to chat with Andjela, my very talented cover artist who has been working with me for over six years.

Let me hand over to Jenine…

Firstly let us meet cover designer, Andjela Vujic. Tell us a little about yourself, Andjela.

While I have a degree in scenography, my art extends to painting, dancing and graphic design. I have been designing book covers for the past nine years, and it remains my biggest passion. I am currently producing the majority of the book covers for Foreshore Publishing in London. You can find me on instagram https://www.instagram.com/agazar_design/

Now to Jackson, how did you initially find Andjela?

When I first started as Jackson Marsh, I went to People Per Hour and put up a work request. Something like:

I am looking for a cover artist to design the covers of my MM Romance and mystery books.

Out of the many offers, Andjela was the designer whose work I felt was most on my wavelength — the most professional — and she seemed flexible. Now, I contact her with a cover idea, and tell her a few basics, such as: What I imagine, what props are involved, the weather (if an outdoor scene), the date/period, and if there’s to be a model/face, I try and send her a similar looking person to the one I want.

At what point do you start imagining the cover? At what stage do you contact Andjela?

I usually start thinking about the cover once I have completed a first draft. By then, everything of importance is in the story, and from it, I extract either a moment as in the covers of ‘Fallen Splendour’, when we see Clearwater (or Andrej) rearing their horse on a clifftop,

or ‘Keepers of the Past’ when we see Joe racing to stop a murder.

Both involve horses, in the way ‘Twisted Tracks’ involve a couple running for a train.

In other words, a moment of excitement from the story.

Other times, I feature the characters, as in ‘Banyak & Fecks’ because it’s more of a biographical story.

Sometimes, I take ‘props’ from the story, and highlight them, such as the cover for ‘Agents of the Truth.’

How easy is it to communicate your ideas, does she understand what you are looking for quickly?

It’s easy, and yes, she knows what I want even when I don’t!

For ‘the Larkspur Legacy’, I wrote,

A sailing ship with three masts, sails, (the year is 1890) in a storm, heading towards us, like the train in the cover you did for ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’. It’s during a storm, and needs to say ‘dramatic journey.’ The book is about a travel, adventure and mystery. So: stormy, the image suggests movement, maybe with a map and compass in the sea like the music was in the ‘Inheritance’ cover. How would that look?

I had another idea too, and she tried that, and I realised it wouldn’t work. She often does me several mock-ups and doesn’t mind how many times I ask for tweaks.

So, you are both on the same wavelength?

Yes, it seems we are. I only have to send the basics, and she knows what I like and, somehow, comes back with exactly what I was picturing, even though I didn’t explain it very well.

I asked Andjela a similar question…

When Jackson sends you his ideas for a cover is it easy to visualise what he wants?

Yes! We have been cooperating for years now, and we have always had great communication. He is one of my favourite clients-always clear on what he wants, which makes my job a lot easier. His initial idea is often the one we go forth with, in the final design.

You were nominated for a Goodreads award for the cover of ‘Seeing Through Shadows’. Congratulations!

I am so glad to hear that. That cover was a pleasure to create.

Which is your favourite cover that you have designed?

Seeing Through Shadows and Negative Exposure 🙂

Jackson, ‘Shadows’ was nominated for best cover by Goodreads, in your opinion is this Andjela’s best? Which one is your favourite?

I like all of them for different reasons. ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ is great because it gives us a ghostly atmosphere, features the owl, and is slightly misleading, which is what I wanted. The colours are also perfect for the mood of the story.

One of my favourites is ‘Negative Exposure’ because it shows the image of either a young male posing for an erotic photograph (a part of the story), or a body lying dead on a rocky shoreline, which is also appropriate. The colours are spot on too.

Mind you, I love the artwork for ‘Banyak & Fecks’, the black and white for ‘Fallen Splendour’, and the drama in ‘Starting with Secrets.’

As for the Larkspur Legacy, as you can see from that email excerpt above, the guides for the cover were:

  • A sailing ship with three masts
  • 1890 (1891)
  • A storm
  • Dramatic journey, travel, adventure, mystery
  • Map & compass

From that, we have the cover which suggests adventure and danger. Within it, however, are also important props from the story. Also, as this is the end of a series, I wanted to do what I’d done with the final Clearwater book; show a moving object, rather than a person. ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ showed a train ploughing through music in the snow. ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ shows a ship ploughing through rough seas against a map. What all that means will become clear when you read the book. Click the photo below to see the new cover…..

Don’t you think it’s fabulous? I’m nearly all the way through my beta read and I can say that it perfectly depicts the thrilling adventure you will be taken on!

Before we finish Andjela has an early birthday surprise for Jackson 🙂 Click on his face for another reveal…

(even Jackson doesn’t know what’s underneath!)

Work In Progress: 5.14

The Larkspur Legacy

The work in progress news this week. I have the proofed MS back, and am reading through it for the last time; still a few days to go with that.

Meanwhile, I have sent the back cover text to Andjela so she can make up the full cover, and I have estimated the page count to be around 500, including the author’s notes, front and back matter, map and an illustration. I expect to have the covers finalised in a week or so, and we are still on track for release on March 26th.

My next job, after my final read, is to set up the Amazon page and get the ISBN number, so I can add that to the front matter before sending everything off to be formatted.

Meanwhile, Neil read the full draft and had a comment to make. I’ll put it here to whet your appetite.

As with all the Larkspur books, The Larkspur Legacy catches the reader in a tale of mystery and mayhem, and twists and turns that will not disappoint. This last story is a book that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dan Brown could have written together.

Jackson Marsh is a gifted author who keeps his readers on the edge of their seats. There will be tears, and your blood will be thumping in your chest as the excitement unfolds.

My proof-reader wrote,

This one’s going to be a hard one to surpass!

What you make of it will be revealed in time, but there’s not long to go now. If you’ve not started on the Larkspur Series, then now’s a good time to begin the adventure with ‘Guardians of the Poor.

As I’ve mentioned before, things that happen in this novel have their roots in previous books, and in ‘Legacy’, the skies are darkening with the wings of chickens coming home to roost, as an old friend of mine used to say. (If only chickens could fly; I think he was being ironic.)

Upwards and onwards, and less than three weeks to wait.

Looking Ahead

Now that the last in the Larkspur series is almost ready to be published, and I have sent it away to be proofed, what next? 

I’ve still to complete the blurb and author’s notes which will also need to be proofread, and I will be working on them later today. As for the next book, I have a few ideas, and I’d like to ask you for more. 

The Clearwater Companion 

My next job is to put together a companion to go with the Clearwater and Larkspur series. For now, I am calling it ‘The Clearwater Companion’, but I also have an idea I might call it: 

Barbary Fleet & Other Matters
A Guide to the Clearwater and Larkspur Series 

When I set about writing the Larkspur series, the first book was to be titled ‘Barbary Fleet,’ and I wrote the first couple of chapters to see how it would go. It didn’t go very far. Not because I didn’t have a good idea, but because I was keen to get the Larkspur Academy up and running, and this book was to be about Fleet, his past, and how he came to be in charge of the academy. It was to be a prequel, I suppose, and like ‘Banyak & Fecks’, would lead to the first of the new series. However, I soon realised I didn’t know enough of what was to happen in the Larkspur world, to give it a prequel, and the time wasn’t right for Barbary Fleet’s past. As Fleet would have said, ‘My past must remain in the future.’ 

I even had an idea for the cover: 

That’s actually my husband photoshoped into a picture and created by Andjela, my cover designer. It was a Birthday present for Neil. 

Instead, as I wrote the Larkspur series, I kept trying to find a place where I could put Fleet’s past, how he came to Larkspur and what his story was, but I never found the chance. There’s a large twist in his story, but it never fitted comfortably into any of the others. 

I’m saving it for the Companion, and it is one of the unpublished sections and stories from the Clearwater and Larkspur worlds that will appear in the finished book. 

The book, by the way, will contain a spoiler alert and I will suggest that people only treat themselves to it once they have finished reading both series.  

As for ideas, so far I have: 

  • Cut sections from some of the books. 
  • Anecdotes and backstories, such as the one mentioned above. 
  • Drawings of some of the characters like I have in the Larkspur series, but didn’t put in the Clearwater ones. 
  • Maps. 
  • Some of the author’s notes / information that, again, I didn’t put in the Clearwater books. 
  • Quotes from some of the characters. 
  • An explanation of titles. 
  • Threads through the books that readers may not have noticed. 

That list is the result of a quick brainstorm, and there may be more ideas to come. I started a folder for this project over two years ago, but there is little in it. I started writing character biographies, but frankly, that became dull. So, I don’t think we’ll have ‘fact pages’ about each of the main characters. It’s a companion, a bit of fun and an extra, not a Haynes manual. 

So, my shout out to you is this:

If you have any ideas, or if you want to suggest what you would like to see in the book, please send them to me either via email or through my Facebook page. Perhaps you have unanswered questions, or want to know something about one/some of the characters that’s not been explained, let me know and I will see what I can do. 

My contact details are on the Connect page: http://jacksonmarsh.com/connect/  and you are more than welcome to join Jackson’s Deviant Desires, my reader group for more discussions and perusal.

How To Start an M/M Romance Series

Currently, my first-in-series novel, Deviant Desire, is enjoying a book funnel promotion in their M/M Series Starters listing. There are many series-starters on the list, which you can explore from here. This gives me an excellent opportunity to talk about the first story in the Clearwater Mysteries, and to address the title of today’s blog: How To Start an M/M Romance Series.

First, have a deviant desire to write.

I’ve often been asked,

‘How did you start writing the Clearwater series?’

My answer?

By accident.

The Stoker Connection

Back in 2018, I’d written a novel called ‘The Stoker Connection,’ and by doing so, unleashed within myself the deviant desire to write more mysteries based on fact, but ones that also included romance and adventure.

I’ve been a fan of ‘Dracula’ since I was 11 and begged for a copy for Christmas. (I was mad on the Hammer Horror films of the 70s and had a thing for creepy castles and what I now know as Gothic.) Dracula is written in the form of diaries and articles, journals and messages, and that makes it all the more real. So, when I set about ‘The Stoker Connection’, I wrote it in diary form, and based the story on a great big What If?

“What if you could prove that the greatest Gothic horror novel of all time was a true story?”

That was my starting point, and if you want to read how it all turned out, you can find The Stoker Connection here.

The Clearwater Mysteries

What ‘Stoker’ did was open up another What If? In this case,

What if Jack the Ripper had killed rent boys?’

That led to a

Why not?’

and then came the,

‘I can, and I will.’

Why not write a story where the villain is the famous Ripper of history? It’s an unsolved crime(s) that continues to grab the imagination of everyone, from conspiracy theorists to famous novelists, filmmakers to composers, so why not have a go? I’d read just about every book on the subject, seen the documentaries and films, and had gathered an amount of knowledge of the times and places. I’d even lived not far from Whitechapel and often walked its streets.

But… Yes, it had been done before, so I needed a different approach.

Make it a gay love story?

I’d written some classic MM Romance with ‘The Mentor of Lonemarsh House’ and other ‘Mentor’ books, and I’d dabbled with gay-to-straight mystery/romance/lore in my James Collins series, ‘The Saddling Series.’ What, then, would happen if I wrote a gay romance set in October 1888, the time the Ripper was stalking the streets of Whitechapel? The only way to answer a question like that is to set about writing one, so I did.

But…? How to make it faction?

Faction being a word for a novel where fact and fiction mix. How to make it realistic without descending into blood and gore, and how to make it dramatic? As if the original events weren’t dramatic enough. First, I thought, because it’s not going to be fact-fact, I will change Whitechapel to Greychurch, so I can create my own world. Greychurch is simply my name of the area of London, and now, eighteen books later, I rather wish I’d just called it Whitechapel, because the series has gone on to be accurate in historic detail apart from the names of a few places. Once they had appeared in ‘Deviant Desire’, it was too late to change them, so I still have Limedock for Limehouse, Westerpool for the Wirral, and St Matthew’s Park instead of Hyde Park. Hey ho! You write and learn.

But… Eighteen books by accident?

Well, yes and no. ‘Deviant Desire’ was meant to be a standalone novel, one that went into detail of the living conditions in the East End in 1888, and one that used facts as well as fiction, told a love story, and that was it. While writing it, I made references and gave nods to some of the facts from the original horrors. Astute Ripperologists may note that I have a double murder on one night, that some of the murder sites bear similarities to the originals (Mitre Square became Bishop’s Square, for example), and there are other hidden references which the avid reader might notice.

Yes, but… Eighteen books?

I’m getting there. The background to ‘Deviant Desire’ was London 1888, but what was the love story? Let’s call on another popular trend, I thought, one that some critics call cliché, and it is, a bit. Rich and poor, across-the-divide, Prince and Pauper, except, not a Prince but a viscount. In the British nobility, a viscount is less than an earl, more than a baron, but still an ancient title that often comes with much responsibility, and as much inherited wealth as debt. Of course, the other character had to be a rent boy, a ‘renter’ as he calls himself, and that’s how we ended up with the two main character’s you see on the cover. Archer Riddington, aka, the Viscount Clearwater, and Silas Hawkins, aka Billy O’Hara, the renter.

Their story starts with the line,

Silas Hawkins was searching for coins in an East End gutter when a man four miles distant and ten years older sealed his fate.

We don’t know who this man is yet, but within that line, we know Silas is poor, where we are, and that there’s going to be an age-gap element. The story continues… Silas has a best friend, a straight man with a big, er, talent, who works as a rent boy out of necessity, and who is an immigrant from Ukraine. Clearwater, meanwhile, sets his crotchety butler and his gorgeous, sexy footman the task of acquiring a renter for an interview. There are already enough ‘standards’ in the story, and I didn’t want another, i.e. the one where a rich man hires a poor man for a shag. Archer is more noble than that, and is using his new-found wealth to finance a shelter for homeless young men in the East End; rent boys, mainly. Thus, he wants to know what life is like for them and what they would want in such a shelter, and sends his staff to find someone who looks a little like a picture he drew. (There is an element of Archer wanting a fantasy to come true, and boy, does he get it.)

Yes, but…? I’m still getting there.

The story unfolds. Silas and his mate, Andrej, meet Archer. Silas immediately falls for him, and vice versa, at which point, the over-arching theme of the book begins: being gay in Victorian Britain was illegal, so everything that follows must happen away from the public eye.

So, now we have: rich and poor, nobility and renters, the East End and Knightsbridge, gay and straight, friendship and love, a 19 year old and a 29 year old, and our main cast can only love illegally. Oh, and there’s a series of murders taking place too, let’s not forget the villain of the piece. Let’s also not forget that the footman is in love with the viscount, the viscount is in love with the footman, but nothing has ever happened because, even within a nobleman’s house, relationships must not cross the threshold of the green baize door. (Upstairs and downstairs mustn’t mix.)

All these elements continue as the mystery unfolds, reaches a climax, and ends with an ending I was not entirely happy with. I was happy with it as a writer, but it left me feeling that there was something more. A longer story to tell. Characters have arced and changed, but where do they go next? What happens to the footman? Did the Ripper escape? Will he be back? Is he dead? And what am I going to do with this main cast of characters.

They’d already become so real, I knew Deviant Desire had to lead to something else.

It did, it led to 17 more novels.

At last! Yes, you see, I got there in the end.

What started as a one-off became a series, by accident, as I said. I hadn’t planned the series, so my ‘How To’ tip remains:

just get on and write it and see what happens.

It’s easy to base future stories on elements of those in the already-published earlier books, you don’t need to plan ahead. Having said that, as I worked through the series, I made notes of what I might like to see happen when the time was right, what other characters I could bring in, and what historical events I could use as fact in my fiction. Had I done all that before writing, Silas Hawkins was searching for coins… I would have found the prospect too daunting, so I am glad I just said, What if? and got on with it.

How Many Novels make up the Clearwater Series?

I mentioned 18, but that includes the follow-on series, the Larkspur Mysteries. The Larkspur novels include characters from right back in book one of Clearwater, Deviant Desire, and they even include threads that began in the prequel (which I wrote after Clearwater eight, ‘One of a Pair’, but which happens before Deviant Desire and leads into it). The two series are connected, and the five main characters, the ‘canonical five’ (you will note the Jack the Ripper reference) can be found playing parts in just about all eleven Clearwater and seven Larkspur books.

So, to answer the question, How To Start an M/M Romance Series, I’d have to answer:

Plan it, write book two before you publish book one, be passionate from the start, keep notes and a ‘bible’ for details, and keep going.

Or

Do what I did, and start one by accident.

Either way, I now have my own best seller, ‘Deviant Desire.’ Two actually, because the first in the Larkspur Series, ‘Guardians of the Poor’ is also doing well. People like a good ongoing series with characters who develop, and, I am pleased to say, that’s what you get with both the Clearwater and Larkspur mysteries.

Note: The last book of both series, ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ is due to be released around March 26th. You don’t have to have read all of the Clearwater books to enjoy the Larkspur series, it can be read separately, but you’ll get more from Larkspur if you’ve read Clearwater. You’re advised to read both series from the start and in order. You can find them all here:

The Clearwater Mysteries

The Larkspur Mysteries

Other novels by Jackson Marsh

The Saddling series and other books by James Collins

All my novels are available in paperback, Kindle and on Kindle Unlimited.

How Many Voices Tell Your Story?

As you might know, I’m currently working on ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, the last in the Larkspur Mystery series.

If you have read ‘Starting with Secrets’, you will know that book comes before ‘Legacy’ and concerns a treasure hunt in four pieces based on the four points of a compass. In ‘Secrets’, the characters chased three out of four clues because I thought having four story-lines running simultaneously might be complicated, and now, writing ‘Legacy’ with all four stories in action, I find I was right.

It’s not the weaving of the four plots that needs careful handling and consideration, but the way the stories are told. I love a good, interwoven plot line or four, where each thread has to be tied off neatly so my story doesn’t get knotted. What I am having to be aware of is who is telling the story, and in ‘Legacy’, I have four main characters seeing the story from four points of view (POV). So, the question is, how do you handle that?

One Character POV

Many stories are told with one main character (MC) as the central character. We follow his/her path from a normal world, through a series of trials and a character-development arc, to a twist, a change, a crisis and a climax. (Use the search box for earlier posts about story and character development.) That’s the classic hero’s journey kind of storytelling, but in ‘Legacy’, I am not telling one person’s story. What I am doing, is bringing to an end a series of 17 books through a device that uses characters and information from as long ago as the Clearwater prequel, Banyak & Fecks, and taking us right up to date and the previous Larkspur mystery, ‘Starting with Secrets.’

I decided I couldn’t write a four-story epic like ‘Legacy’ with one main character involved in each one of the four through-lines, simply because no-one can be in four places at the same time. However, what I could do, was have one of my main characters ‘lead’ each storyline and write it from his point of view, keeping one protagonist (in this case, Archer, Lord Clearwater), and one antagonist who has a band of other villains under his command.

Thus, what we have are four stories woven together, all playing their part in the success or failure of one overarching story (the treasure hunt), and all coming about because of one protagonist. Easy right?

Actually, yes. I’m loving it, but I have to keep my eye on the ball, particularly when it comes to who is experiencing the story, and as I just explained, that is not one character, but four.

Five actually, or maybe it’s six…

Know Your Throughlines

Without giving anything away, I can tell you that the action plot of ‘Legacy’ looks something like this:

  1. Overarching plot of discovering the secret and finding the treasure based on four points of the compass.
  2. South: a team chasing down the answer to the south clue
  3. North: a team chasing down the answer to the north clue
  4. East: Ditto but the east clue
  5. West: you get the picture
  6. The villain’s story, because we need to know that side of things too

Within those six storylines, we must have the emotional side of the story, so that the reader is engaged emotionally and is not reading a Clive Cussler action-adventure story.*

So, among the six listed above, I also have:

  1. The ‘heart’ of the story; the friendship story if you like
  2. The tying up of previous loose ends, love stories, histories, etc.
  3. The villain’s motivation explained
  4. The tying up of other threads begun in earlier books in the series
  5. Giving those that deserve it a happy ending (or not)

(* I love Clive Cussler adventure stories, btw.)

With those charted on my map that will lead me through ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, I set about writing the story… stories… while keeping everything and everyone focused on the final outcome: success for Lord Clearwater, and happiness (or not) for his band of friends, crew and academy men.

This is where, when you are writing from more than one character’s point of view, you need to remember who is seeing the story unfold.

General Narrator VS Character POV

Many authors write with their own voice as the narrator, and that’s fine. The narrator is an omnipresent observer relaying the events back to you, the reader. I always wonder, though, how this narrator knows what’s inside the characters’ heads and hearts, and I often find the telling of the emotional side of stories is muted because of this approach. That, like everything else I write here, is only my opinion.

Some authors, and I am thinking of John Steinbeck here, take on the voice of a character who lives in the world of the story but is not actually in the story. That works better for me, and I find my writing flows best when I am writing in the first person, as I do in one of the stories within ‘Legacy.’

Some of my books have taken two characters’ points of view, and others have taken more, but only now and then. ‘Banyak & Fecks’ for example, is told in four parts: Andrej, from his POV, Silas, from his, then the Andrej & Silas, and Banyak & Fecks sections which are variously from both points of view. In other books, we might find a chapter from a minor character’s point of view, as we do at the start of ‘Artful Deception’ which opens with a man called Henry Beddington, the concierge of the National Gallery. That’s fine too; we need to keep our readers informed and entertained, and if we have to change from one place to another, we might need to change from one character’s POV to another.

Beware: it’s not a good idea to have a new lead character and point of view in every single chapter or section thereof.

For ‘Legacy’, I have gone down the multi-character point-of-view narration style. It’s still my voice overall, but even though we read from a 3rd person, omnipresent narration in all but the 1st person sections, I am aware that I am describing things from a character’s POV and not my own.

Say what?

I am trying to say, when making more than one character your main character, always be aware of who that character is, and make sure his/her reactions to and observations of what happens are character appropriate. Fine, but there’s more. I also try and ensure my style of narration reflects the main character of the chapter.

Let me try and illustrate what I am saying.

Voices

Again, without giving anything away, here is how I am approaching this multi-character point-of-view style in ‘Legacy.’ Here are a few examples of how I am trying to change my narrator’s voice to reflect the attitudes of the main characters of each of my storylines. These are first-draft, unedited sections, so please forgive any clumsiness.

1) Action at Larkspur Hall is seen from Silas’ point of view, therefore the first thing we get is a cosey scene of two lovers in bed. The writing style is mostly straightforward, to reflect Silas’ character, and when writing, I find myself ‘thinking Irish.’

‘This is an outrage!’

Silas rolled over to find his lover sitting up in bed, his reading spectacles teetering on the end of his nose and his face red with rage. Archer’s knuckles were white as he gripped a newspaper, and his coffee sat steamless on the bed tray. Silas hadn’t heard Nancarrow come in, deliver the coffee and pour, nor had he woken when the butler drew the curtains revealing a grey sky…

2) Action pertaining to the ‘heart’ of the story (the good fortune of the academy men, friendship, the changes Clearwater has enabled in his men, the more emotional side of things). This is mainly seen from Dalston Blaze’s point of view, he being the first Larkspur Academy man we met in ‘Guardians of the Poor.’

The workhouse. A previous life of tedium, cold and hunger. An existence he wouldn’t wish on anyone, and yet, had it not been for a house fire and an unknowing public, he wouldn’t have been taken to the Hackney spike. There, if it hadn’t been for a kind matron and his ability to draw, he would never have met Joe, but if he hadn’t met Joe, he may not have fallen prey to Skaggot. His life had been shaped by a chain of coincidences, and the only one among them that felt inevitable was meeting Joe.

3) 1st person narrative is written by Bertie Tucker in diary form. He’s a pretty rough character underneath, been at sea since he was seven, and not greatly educated, but he’s been asked to keep a diary. In this brief section, he’s trying on clothes with an Italian sailor called Mario. The style is completely different to a) give readers a rest and a smile, and b) bring them into the action, because 1st person is more direct.

I got me boots and trousers off, and was in my drawers going through the shirts when I found one I thought might fit him. So, I turned back to hand it over and he’s standing there naked as the day he was born. Or, more like, the day he was carved out of marble, because his body (darker skin than me) showed me every single muscle.

‘What you doing naked?’ I said, and should have looked away, but being me, I couldn’t resist a gander. Just a quick one, you understand, but enough for him to see what I were doing.

‘No underwear,’ he said. ‘Lost it in a bet.’

Bloody hell. This great big peg dangling about dark as you like, and a couple of buoys you could hitch a few lobster pots to and never lose them in a storm, and… I mean, where’s a man to look?

4) The descriptive, darker side of villains. When we switch to the baddies and what they are up to, I have, as I have done before, slipped into Tripp’s mind, but in some cases, as in the example below, I have become a general narrator as if I and the reader were floating around in the fetid atmosphere of the villain’s lair.

To Tripp’s left stood the letter table, a relic of a fortunate past once lived, where industrious staff had placed the box for posting, and the deliveries from cheerful men wishing Fareham’s household a good day. Now, it was nothing but another shape in the gloom, whose usefulness had faded like the writing on the envelopes that once might have waited there. What remained was an opener. A long, steel blade which, unlike Tripp, had meaning. It was within his reach, and it would do its work with speed, but it was not work Tripp could currently allow. No matter how vile his master, he needed the earl. Perhaps, once Clearwater was dead, so could the earl be, for Tripp had nothing to live for after his revenge was done.

5) Others, and so on. Other parts of the story are seen through the eyes of other characters, such as Frank Andino, and when he’s on stage as the MC, I am aware that he’s a blunt speaker. Not only is this reflected in the dialogue, but it’s also shown in the ‘black stuff’, the narration, as if we were in his mind.

The sauntering young Greek became a confident Englishman as Frank entered the foyer, hands out of pockets, guidebook under his arm. His hat doffed to the sleepy old lady behind the counter, he mounted the stairs with grace until the turn, and then bolted the rest of the way to their room. Two open suitcases, Jimmy’s spare jacket on a hanger, Frank’s trousers off the floor, two bottles from the table, one bloody boot? Where’s the other one, malaka…? Both in the case, case shut, other case shut, quick check. All there. Fuck off out of here.

How Many Voices Tell Your Story?

To bring this to a close, I repeat: How Many Voices Tell Your Story? I answer my own question by saying, as many as it takes, but be careful. Ensure your narration fits the main character as well as your characters’ dialogue suits them, and don’t be afraid to transport your reader from one place to another at the turn of a page. However, remember your overarching through-line, your character arcs and your plot.

Hey, this writing thing is meant to be fun, isn’t it?

Have a good weekend, Jackson

Christmas Parties & Celebrations

Hello, everyone

Today’s blog is all about celebrations, parties, freebies and award nominations. There is a lot taking place in the run up to Christmas, all of it exciting, and I’ve set out all the details below. It starts with an online party in a popular Facebook group…

This Sunday there is a massive party over on the MM Fiction Addiction Cafe Facebook page. Over 100 authors will be dropping in throughout the day introducing themselves and holding quizzes and games. It promises to be a riot of freebies and festive frivolity. I will be joining in the celebrations and it would be great to see you there! The party will take place between 9am and 9pm Eastern Time, which is 4pm – 4am in Greece, 2pm – 2am in the UK (I think?!).

Followed by…..

The Small But Mighty MM Romance Group are halfway through their 12 Tropes of Christmas Celebrations. On Tuesday look out for #AgeGap where yours truly will be dropping in to showcase my Mentor Series. Come along and join the fun for a chance to win two books of your choice from the series.

Meanwhile, on my own Facebook page I am still running my advent ‘name the book’ competition.

Every day a new question and all correct answers will be put into my husband’s steampunk hat on Boxing Day and my godson will draw the winner. And now I can reveal that the grand prize will be…wait for it

ddrrrrrrrrrrrrr……..

your choice of a mousemat or mug featuring The Clearwater Book covers. Yes, I thought it was time we try out some merchandising so we have been playing on various websites and trying out some mock-ups. Whoever wins we will personally create your prize and ship it off to you in the New Year.


And if you still have some free time after all those shenanigans please head over to Goodreads where you can vote for your favourite MM Romance authors of 2022. I have been nominated for a number of awards, a huge thank you to those who voted so far! I am listed amongst some of the top names which in itself is a great honour.

BEST COVER ART

First up we have ‘Best Cover Art’…it is fantastic to see Andjela K nominated, without her my books would just not have the same visual impact. Click the link to place your vote https://www.goodreads.com/…/258430-best-cover-art-you…

BEST ESTABLISHED COUPLE

Joe and Dalston are nominated in this category. This gives me great joy, I absolutely loved creating these two characters and their relationship really did bring out pure emotion in my writing. I couldn’t have done it without learning British Sign Language, I feel that took my journey with these two young men to a different level. Here’s the link to vote https://www.goodreads.com/…/258374-best-established…

BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

This nomination is a big WOW, ‘Speaking In Silence’ is up there amongst some big names, a great honour. To place your vote follow the link https://www.goodreads.com/…/258367-best-book-of-the…

ALL-TIME FAVOURITE M/M SERIES

Both The Clearwater and The Larkspur Series have been nominated for The Best Series Category (I suggest we all vote for Clearwater to gain more collective votes)

Click the link to vote https://www.goodreads.com/…/258336-all-time-favorite-m…

ALL-TIME FAVOURITE MM ROMANCE

Deviant Desire remains my best-selling book to date, it is so good to see it here as a nominee. Silas and Archer’s relationship started as an ‘insta-love’ but their lives together continue to be exciting and passionate, I have loved telling their story. If you would like to vote for them hit the link https://www.goodreads.com/…/258377-all-time-favorite-m…

ALL-TIME FAVOURITE M/M AUTHOR

Yes! I have made the nominee list, thank you, thank you! Here’s the link to vote fave author

You need to be a group member of the MM Romance group, if you need the link to sign up, here it is

https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/20149-m-m-romance

It takes 24 hours to approve your request and be sure to put your date of birth on the sign-up.

Thank you everyone!

After all this excitement, I could do with a lie down, but the truth is, I have left my Larkspur Academy men in something of a predicament, so I had better go and write another chapter of ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ before they get tired of waiting. A proper update will be on Wednesday’s blog.