New Release: Negative Exposure

New Release: Negative Exposure

Today I have news of my latest release, Negative Exposure.

This is book nine in the ongoing Clearwater Mystery series. It not only gives you a mystery, an exciting finale with a face-off and chase, but it also paves the way for book ten—more about that in a minute. First, I would like to tell you a little about what is behind Negative Exposure and how I came to write it.

Banyak & Fecks

Although this is book nine in the popular series, it is born out of the series prequel, Banyak & Fecks. When I was writing the prequel, I was researching what my main character, Silas Hawkins, might have done to make ends meet. If you have read it, you will know he moved to London in 1884, aged 16, to find his fortune, send money home to his sisters so they could survive. He was always a petty-criminal and not afraid of the law, so he fell into dipping (pickpocketing) and running scams. Having met Andrej (Fecks), he discovered prostitution, which led him to pose naked for a photographer.

There is a scene in Banyak & Fecks where Silas goes to have his photos taken, and it all goes wrong (no spoilers). That was the starting point for the idea behind Negative Exposure.

The story starts in December 1889 and the second Clearwater Foundation gala, held at the Lyceum Theatre in London. Silas is now the Foundation’s public face, and the Queen’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor, is considering becoming a patron of the charity. It’s all going well, but then Silas’ old life comes back to haunt him. The story of his past unfolds, and in the narrative, we’re taken back to the scene of the photographic session. From then on, the mystery becomes more complicated as James and Fecker work together to discover the villain’s identity and do something about it before it’s too late…

The Obscene Publications Act of 1857

This act of British law, also called Lord Campbell’s Act, was introduced into statute because, Prior to this Act, the “exposure for sale” of “obscene books and prints” had been made illegal by the Vagrancy Act 1824. but the publication of obscene material was a common-law misdemeanour. The effective prosecution of authors and publishers was difficult even in cases where the material was clearly intended as pornography. [Wikipedia]

Researching into this act, because I like to include factual historical details in my fiction, I discovered that the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Campbell, presided over its creation when the House of Commons was debating a bill to restrict the sale of poisons. Campbell made the analogy that (what we now call) pornography was a sale of poison more deadly than prussic acid, strychnine or arsenic. So, our obscenity laws stemmed from the sale of poison, and the act was not repealed and updated until over one hundred years later, in 1959.

All very interesting, but what I found more interesting was the law didn’t say anything about those who made the pornography or appeared in it. It was purely to do with the sale of printed works. More interesting, though typical of the time, was the blatant hypocrisy behind notions of pornography. It was something that would adversely affect women and young people — men, it seems, were not affected by images of naked men. I also looked into that and had to wonder how a person can pose for an artist and have a nude painting represent, say, a Classic figure from mythology and people call it acceptable art, and yet a naked man posing in the same fashion but for a camera was considered pornography. That was something of a rabbit hole, and one I may go further down one day.

All interesting stuff, and slightly explored in Negative Exposure, which is more a mystery thriller than it is a work about the originals of the Obscene Publications Act of 1857.

The Russian or Asiatic Influenza Pandemic of 1889/1890

Another aspect of Negative Exposure is the background world, what was actually happening in London in 1889, and that, ironically enough, was an influenza pandemic. It started in Asia and quickly spread across Europe in 1889, reaching London late in the year, just about the time my story starts. That, I thought, would act as a handy added layer of tension and could also make for a couple of twists.

And On To Book Ten

While writing Negative Exposure, my mind was already fast-forwarding to the next book.

Now then, some people might think that ten books in one series is enough, and right now, I agree. It’s not that I am getting tired of my characters or world, but I wonder if the reader might be. As the series has grown, so has the cast list, and there is now a group of ten main characters. They, I thought, might make for a good and final part ten. ‘The Power of Ten’ was my original idea, and I thought of a story that would see all ten main players banding together to fix one final mystery.

[The ten, by the way, would be: Clearwater and Silas, James and Thomas, Jasper & Billy, Fecker & Lucy, Mrs Norwood, Doctor Markland.]

Map showing the spread of the pandemic, 1889 to 1890

However, when I started on Negative Exposure and brought in the influenza pandemic as background colour, another idea occurred to me. This was an idea I had a while back, and one that concerns Archer (Lord Clearwater’s) title and estates. It’s complicated because he is the second son and the oldest one—the ‘real’ viscount—is still alive though stripped of his title (which, I don’t think, was possible, but this is fiction). So, I started to think, what would happen if Archer’s land, money, charities, business and all that were in jeopardy? Not the man himself, but everything he stands for. Well, actually, why not the man himself as well? What if Archer stands to lose everything? How might that come about? What could be done to save it?

And that’s how part ten has started. So far, it is titled ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, and the last couple of chapters of Negative Exposure pave the way and start the story rolling.

I am working on it. It’s turning out to be complicated to hone down to the simplest way of explaining the inheritance problem and how it might be shifted from one man to another, and it’s giving me a headache. But, once I have the technicalities nailed down, the rest of the story will flow because I have already invented it in my head.

‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ won’t be out for a few months, as I have to get everything right, and there are lots of ends to tie up before the series finishes.

Except, it’s not going to finish, not really, and not if I can keep the momentum and direct it into a siding. You see, I have an idea for a second series based in the Clearwater World, and the groundwork for that is also laid out in the final chapters of Negative Exposure, and the foundations will be laid during the telling of book ten, The Clearwater Inheritance.

No promises, but don’t worry that you after book ten you won’t read of Archer, Silas, Fecks and the crew, because they will be back as background characters in a new series, ‘The Larkspur Academy Mysteries’, or adventures, or… well, it’s all still rather in the planning stage, and I am not even sure it will be written.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling from me. The main point here is that Negative Exposure is now available in paperback and Kindle and on Kindle Unlimited if you use that service, and it’s set at the same price as all my other books. Just follow the links, read, enjoy, and if you do, review and share the news.

Thanks for being here, and I will see you next week.

Jackson

The Real History Behind The Clearwater Mysteries

Part 1 – Jack the Ripper

This is the first blog in a series over the next few months where I will look at the real historical events behind each of my books in the Clearwater Mysteries Series. Today we talk about that infamous murderer, Jack the Ripper and are joined by guest author Russell Edwards of “Naming Jack the Ripper” fame.

Where did my fascination with The Ripper come from?

I have had an interest in Jack the Ripper since I lived in the East End of London in the 80s/90s. I lived two miles away from Whitechapel and often walked down to Shoreditch and Spitalfields for the markets, treading some of the streets where Jack committed his murders. Like many, I love an unsolved mystery and have a theory that what draws people to this particular mystery is the possibility of being the one to solve it.

Books, documentaries, TV…

There are plenty of books on the subject, some by learned authors, some by amateur sleuths, and many purporting to have found ‘the final clue’, or to know the definitive answer. I have read, maybe not all of them but, enough to have a general understanding of the main details of the mystery. It was that background that led me to ‘Deviant Desire.’

In particular, I had read “The Diary of Jack the Ripper” by Shirley Harrison, ‘The Complete Jack the Ripper‘ by Donald Rumbelow, ‘Naming Jack the Ripper‘ by Russel Edwards, and had dipped in and out of ‘The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper‘ by Maxim Jakubowski, Kris Dyer, et al. Checking my Kindle content list, I remember I have also read ‘Jack the Ripper’s Streets of Terror‘ by John Stewart, ‘Chasing the Ripper‘ by Patricia Cornwell, and ‘Jack the Ripper: The Simple Truth‘ by Bruce Paley, and some compilations that had articles about aspects of the case along with other famous crimes of the age.

Good Lord! On top of that little lot, I have seen various documentaries on the subject, and of course, some rather dubious film and TV accounts. Most, if not all of these books and programmes offer their version of what actually happened, who Jack definitely was beyond doubt, and each of them is in their own way, convincing. They can’t all be right, and the truth is, we will probably never know the answer, and it’s that that keeps the fascination alive.

I invited Russell Edwards over to the blog today to chat with me. He is the author of  ‘Naming Jack the Ripper‘ and runs The Jack the Ripper Tour Company in London.

 

Russell, where did your obsession with Jack the Ripper start?

Not so much an obsession, but more an interest in the real story and the challenge of discovering who the true murderer was. It started when I watched the film: ‘From Hell’.  I did a Ripper tour the next day and it wasn’t until I did it did I realise that the Ripper murders occurred in the area I’d been in all that time. That’s where my story started.

Your identification of the Ripper is based on the DNA collected from a shawl. Why was the shawl so important and how did you find it?

The Shawl

 

I was told that a shawl was for sale at a reputable auction house in Suffolk. I went to see it and it had blood on there. It was clearly very old. The auction brochure said: interested parties should make their own enquiries. It also stated that the shawl had been kept for a while at the crime museum at Scotland Yard. I called Scotland Yard and the investigation started there. I found a direct link to the dates of the last three murders to the pattern on the shawl. I told this to Scotland Yard who then told me the true story of the identity of Jack the Ripper.

If the Ripper had committed his crimes in the modern-day do you think the police would have been more successful in solving the crime?

Yes. He would have apprehended very quickly. There are CCTV cameras on every street in the area. With modern police procedures, he would have bee caught in my opinion. A copycat killer who murdered two prostitutes recently was apprehended very quickly.

Aaron Kosminski is the man that you believe to be Jack the Ripper – if you could meet him what would you say to him?

What was the trigger to murder the first one?

What do you think was going through his mind when he was killing those young girls, why was he so obsessed and brutal?

I’m a fully qualified Psychotherapist and have written a paper on this point. It is related to his mental health, his past, what happened to him as a child. I can’t really say what was going through his mind at the time other than he developed a bloodlust as serial killers do.

If you could choose one location that showcases Victorian London and everything linked to the Ripper, where would it be?

It would be the junction of Princelet Street and Wilkes Street. It really delivers the feeling of 1888 Whitechapel.

As you turn into Wilkes Street, Whitechapel you see the dark Georgian houses that existed at the time of the Ripper murders in 1888.

Moving to your walking tours, tell us a little bit about them.  

I incorporate the story of the murders with the discovery of the Ripper to educate the public who Jack the Ripper truly was. By coming on the tour I would hope that you learn the truth and the story of Jack the Ripper. Normally, the tours run every week from Aldgate East Tube Station at 7pm.

You can keep up to date with our tour news on Facebook and Instagram.

At the moment due to the current restrictions look out for online events and podcasts such as this discussion and chat with The Real Paranormal Magazine UK this week.

Thank you Russell for your time, a great guy to follow if you share our fascination.

 ———————————————————————————

So, back to my Clearwater world. Which came first? The idea for the series and then the setting in Victorian London OR thinking about the Ripper which led to the book?

Deviant Desire, The Clearwater Mysteries book one

I can’t remember exactly what I was doing when the idea for ‘Deviant Desire’ popped into my head. ‘Well,’ I thought one day out of the blue, ‘what if the Ripper had killed rent boys?’ (As we call them now.) Street rat renters in my imaginary, Clearwater world. That was how ‘Deviant Desire’ started. Take a Victorian renter, put him in Whitechapel in 1888 and see what happens. Oh, better add in a love story… What about the class divide too? He’ll need a sidekick, and I will need to do more research. I called Whitechapel’ Greychurch’ because I wanted to take other liberties than ‘Jack’ killing young men not women, but I did manage to get in some nods to the original story while inventing my fiction.

My imaginary world in Victorian London was created with facts twisted into my own plots

Readers might note that I have a ‘double event’, a murder takes place in Bishop’s Square (Elizabeth Stride was killed in Mitre Square). Annie Chapman died in Hanbury Street; my victim was found in Harrington Street. I invented Lucky Row, and Mary Ann Nichols was killed in Buck’s Row. Astute readers might also have noticed that Lord Clearwater lives in Buck’s Avenue which leads into a Buck’s Row, but that’s over in Knightsbridge. I changed the names (and dates) because I wanted them to fit my own trail of clues. My characters also work through a series of other possibilities, such as the murder sites forming a Star of David, or the letter A, but these, they quickly discount for logical reasons.

Jack the Ripper, and the knowledgeable books I have read on the subject, clearly inspired and, in part, informed the story of ‘Deviant Desire.’ In no way did I set out to solve the original murders. Nor did I base my story on facts – apart from the conditions and mores of the time, etiquette, grand houses, servants’ roles, transport and other historical background facts. Jack was the inspiration only, but what I did end up doing was unmasking my fictional Ripper. That, I thought, had to be done to complete the story, but the allure of Jack is that no-one knows who he was. The murders just stopped. Translate that to my fictional world, I thought, and I can explain why the ‘East End Ripper’ (as I called him) suddenly stopped his killing spree. In my world, it was because he’d done what he set out to do, but that still left me with my tongue in my cheek thinking, ‘But I can then tell the reader why and how his murders stopped.’ In other words, I thought, I could tell the reader what happened to ‘Jack’ and explain why my East End Ripper was never caught.

To learn that, you will have to read book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’, and possibly books three and four… Actually, up to book six, but, hopefully, after reading ‘Deviant Desire,’ you will want to carry on the series and find out how the characters develop, how storylines interweave and see what becomes of my street rat renter.

The Clearwater Mystery series has now reached eight published novels, number nine ‘Negative Exposure’ is about to come out, and number ten, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ has been plotted, and I am ready to start. And it’s all thanks to the unsolved case of Jack the Ripper.

As I final note, I want to say how thrilled I was that Russell took the time and trouble to answer questions for me. As an amateur, it’s an honour, like having a signed copy of his book. I have a hard copy, and maybe one day, when I can, I will return to the East End and take the tour, bringing the book with me for the ultimate signature.

I’ll be back next week. Meanwhile, if you want to see the cover of ‘Negative Exposure’ you can find it on my Facebook page.

Ideas for the Next Clearwater Mystery

Ideas for the Next Clearwater Mystery

I have to admit, I completely forgot what day of the week it was, and that’s why my Saturday blog post is appearing on a Sunday. I was sitting here at the computer yesterday writing ideas for a new Clearwater story and thinking, ‘I’m sure there’s something I should be doing…’ There was, and here it is.

A (possible) New Clearwater Mystery for Book Nine

Here’s a treat for you. A sketch of Fecker drawn for the Clearwater Companion (a work in very slow progress).

During the last two weeks, I have begun work on a new Clearwater adventure. I had started one before I sat down to write the prequel, Banyak & Fecks, and had the beginning, the ending and the mystery in between semi-mapped out. I was going to call this one ‘Men of a Similar Heart’ because I liked the title, and I may still come back to that title and story in the future. For some reason, though, I reached around 30,000 words and found myself trundling. I mean, writing chapters where all kinds of interesting domestic things happened, characters chatted, and we delved into day to day life at Clearwater House, but where nothing actually happened to advance the mystery story. This suggested that either I wasn’t in the right mood to continue an adventure, or the story was mundane.

Victorian Erotica

So, I set that aside and started on a completely different idea which was thrown up during the writing of Banyak & Fecks. If you’ve read that one, you’ll know there is a scene where Silas is invited/seduced into posing naked for photographs. [I looked around the web for an image or two to illustrate that scene and found only a couple of solo men. The others were far too pornographic to display here.]

Later than 1889 judging from his hair style, but you get the picture.

This did go on in those times (1889). There was a market for erotica and pornography, straight and gay, and you can find original images online in various archives. Of course, the practice was going on before and has been happening ever since. My godfather (born in 1919) was once a model for erotic images in the 1920s and 30s. He posed for a fairly well-known photographer called Angus McBain, in Victoria, London, and told me about his sittings when he related his life story to me later in his life.

In Banyak & Fecks, Silas poses and is photographed… and then the story moves on. I was thinking about what to write next, aware that the ongoing series has reached the last few months of 1889, and I wondered, ‘Now what?’ Most of the love stories have been put in place, and I can’t really introduce another new character and love story, Clearwater House is now full of couples! Well, we have Archer/Silas, James/Thomas, Fecker/Lucy and now, Jasper/Billy. Apart from perhaps having some infidelity (which is not impossible), it’s currently hard to think how I can inject another love-thread into the saga. Instead, I thought, I might have a simple mystery for James, the detective, to solve with one or two of the other characters.

And then I remembered Silas’ photo-shoot with ‘Sir’ in Banyak & Fecks, and thought, ‘What if…?’ As that idea started to grow, I realised that, as we’re towards the end of 1889, another Clearwater Foundation Gala is due; another big theatrical event with the well to do of London, and thought, ‘that’s an interesting starting place,’ and the idea developed.

Relating the Story to Today

1889 saw the outbreak of a worldwide flu pandemic, the ‘Russian’ or ‘Asiatic’ flu that started in Bukhara in the Russian Empire (now in Uzbekistan). It reached England in December 1889, perfect timing, I thought if such a tragedy could be considered perfect.

This means I have three pieces of a possible mystery puzzle. 1) a threat to Clearwater and his way of life with the surfacing of erotic photographs of Silas, His Lordship’s secretary and coordinator of the Greychurch Mission. 2) The second Clearwater Gala, and 3) the arrival of Russian flu in Britain.

How to tie them together?

Well, I thought, also available to me in terms of historical accuracy, is Prince Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence, Queen Victoria’s grandson (also known as Prince Eddy, and one of the more unlikely suspects for being Jack the Ripper). He was away in South Africa at the time I am writing, but I can take a liberty with that, and I wondered how it might add pressure to the story if he was at the gala, and better, considering becoming the patron of the Clearwater Foundation.

A cencored image such as those Silas posed for.

With that in the offing, and images of Silas about to surface, there could be a head-on collision for Clearwater, and what’s more, it will take place during the outbreak of deadly flu. So, I then added another what if…? Someone close to Clearwater became gravely ill. That adds pressure, but what if this impending tragedy caused Clearwater to travel abroad, thus putting him in more danger, leaving some of his crew behind to deal with the possible Silas embarrassment?

Who is in charge of sorting out this mess? Well, at the moment, I am working on the idea that James, Silas and Fecker will take the lead in this story, and I am up to 30,000 words, which is about the end of the first act.

The New Story So Far

No spoilers, but in the story so far, the gala has happened, Prince Eddy is considering lending his name to the Clearwater Foundation, everyone is happy, but Dr Markland has pulled Archer aside to give him grave news. Back home the next day, Markland and Archer tell everyone about the flu heading to London, and Archer orders everyone to Larkspur for their protection.

The spread of Russian Flu 1889 – 1890

But… He’s also received word that his mother, while travelling to Bran Castle for Christmas as she does every year, has fallen ill with the flu in Paris. Archer and Thomas set off for Paris, Harvey and Mrs Norwood pack up Clearwater House and take the staff to Larkspur, and everything seems on track.

But… Behind this, Silas has received copies of photos he posed for three years previously, along with a blackmail threat, and the only people he can turn to are James and Fecker…

And… Well, that’s the next stage. As the characters investigate, I will inject a deadline and head to a climax that will somehow involve one of those ‘race to beat the baddie’ endings that we saw in Twisted Tracks, Unspeakable Acts, Artful Deception and the others.

That’s where I am at the moment. Today, if I can, I want to bring the first act to its end with one almighty twist, or development, or ‘oh no!’ moment, and that’s my job as soon as I have finished this stream of consciousness ramble.

Thanks for listening. Writing this has helped me clear my thoughts which were becoming a little bit stuck. Next week, hopefully, I will remember what day it is and post my last blog post of 2020 on Saturday as usual.

While searching for suitable photos for this post, I stumbled across Josephine Myles, ‘Gay romance with lashings of English sauce’ and a post on her site, from which I borrowed an image (which I censored slightly). Have a look at her site.

Slumming it in Victorian London

Slumming it in Victorian London

While researching for my Clearwater Series, and ‘Banyak & Fecks’ in particular, I have been investigating the slums of Victorian London. Thanks to books like Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London by Seth Koven, and websites such as www.victorianlondon.org/ and The British Newspaper Archive, I’ve learnt a little about slums and slumming.

You often hear the phrase ‘slumming it’, you may even use it, and you know what it means today. But did you know when and how it originated? (I expect you do, but just in case, I’ll explain anyway.)

Origins of word usage, ‘slumming’

I searched through the newspaper archive looking specifically for the word ‘Slumming’ and found a couple of instances from the 18th century. They interested me because I thought the word didn’t come into use until the mid-19th century. They turned out to be spelling errors and were meant to read ‘summing’, so that made sense. Between 1800 and 1849 there were 77 instances of usage in the newspapers kept in the archive, and early instances were, again, typos, ‘summoning’, ‘slumping’ and similar instead of slumming.

In the second half of the 19th century, however, instances rose sharply to 3,741, and that figure was surpassed in the first half of the 20th century, at 3,799. I wasn’t about to check every single instance, so refined my search to the 1800s, as I am currently writing in that decade, and found most usages came in 1884, January, to be precise. Interestingly, that’s the year when, in my current work in progress, Banyak and Fecker meet.

So, from that basic hunt, I concluded ‘slumming’ as a word began in the mid-19th century, as I thought. But what was it?

This excerpt from The St James Gazette explains it neatly.

[Incurably idle, defiantly vicious, delicious horror, valuable acquisition at dinner parties… just about sums it up!]

Simply put, it became fashionable for the well to do, the West-enders, or middle and upper classes, to take themselves off to the slums of Chelsea, Whitechapel and other places, to see ‘how the other half lived.’ Abhorrent to us these days, perhaps, and the equivalent of rubbernecking a road accident, but that was how things were. Parties would be organised, some daring the streets and slums on their own, others finding a local guide, and not all of them dropping shillings to those whose homes they nosed around in.

Examples from newspapers and publications

There are plenty of mentions in publications of the day, and I picked out just a couple of examples for you.

“Now, then, who will go slumming down Chelsea way? It is apparently as nasty, and is far more convenient for West-enders to get at, by road, rail, and river, than Whitechapel.”

[The Sportsman, July 16th 1887]

Slumming appeared in literature both serious and comedic, such as I found in  ‘A working class tragedy’ by H. J. Bramsbury (chapter XXXVII), which appeared in a publication called Justice, on February 16th 1889.

Click for full size

You might be able to see from the screenshot I took, how a visitor asks if friends would like to go slumming, and when asked what that is, explains: ‘It is quite the thing now. How the poor live is quite the newest idea. You go around and visit the slums as they are called.’

When asked what good it does, the visitor replies, ‘Well, I think it makes one feel thankful that one doesn’t belong to the lower orders.’

‘But what good do the poor derive from it?’

‘Oh, I don’t know that it does them much good except you give them a shilling occasionally… It’s quite astonishing what the interesting inhabitants are willing to do for a shilling.’

We might gape at such an attitude these days, and I’m hoping the story was satirical, but it highlighted not only what slumming was, but the upper classes’ attitude towards it as it because a popular fad. What also caught my attention was the institution that the poor would do ‘astonishing’ things for twelve pence. (Banyak and Fecks charge more or less than a shilling depending on what ‘service’ they provide.)

Slumming even turns up in popular songs of the time, as this verse from ‘The Barrel Organ’ attests.

Since high society first found a pleasure new in “slumming,”
And visiting an East-end court was deemed a task becoming
We’ve oft been told how sad a state the “masses” now are in
And what foul wretchedness is bred of ignorance and gin.

[Quoted in ‘Truth’, February 23rd 1888]

Click for full size

A charitable reason.

Some slummers, you might call them, went to the East End and elsewhere for charitable reasons, to see conditions for themselves, and as slumming became more popular, so more people learnt of the conditions in which the poor lived. You can find a page at Victorian London here which gives an excerpt from Dottings of a Dosser, by Howard J. Goldsmid, 1886, which includes, “Slumming” became a popular amusement; and with this amusement, and the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the matter, the public conscience was salved.

Here is an excerpt from my work in progress, ‘Banyak & Fecks’ (first draft).

On dry nights, the visitors would meet at the stone arch, warm in winter furs but cold with apprehension, speaking in hushed voices and telling each other what they expected to see.
Some came to see what they could do.
‘I believe there is talk of something called the Jew’s Temporary Shelter’, one said. ‘I may contribute to the fund.’
‘I was at Keeble,’ said another. ‘We were instrumental in establishing the Oxford House Settlement. It’s in Bethnal Green.’
It was, and it offered a club for boys, a gymnasium and a library. It hosted concerts for the poor and brought them together beneath the word of God at Bible readings while being occupied by those from the upper-classes keen to experience life side-by-side with the destitute.
‘We must all play our part,’ one woman instructed. ‘It is our Christian duty to help the unfortunates and to understand what they endure. Which reminds me, Marjory, are you invited to Sir Malcolm’s ball?’

So, slumming was a popular pastime in the years my current work in progress is set, and I have used it as a plot device. Now then, if you promise me you understand this is only the first draft, and you will be kind, let me share a little of it with you.

It’s late in 1884, Silas (Banyak) has met Andrej (Fecks), but has not yet found the courage to sell his body on the street. Instead, using his wits, he has noticed slumming tours and decides to set himself up as a guide. As usual, I have taken historical facts and real locations and mixed them with fiction. Silas is taking a group of slummers into Greychurch…

‘First of all, gents, you’ve got your loafers, them as who’s the drones in this working-class hive,’ he would say as he led his party along Cheap Street. ‘Me old dad were what you’d call a loafer, ’cos he’d carry bread baskets from Simpson’s bakery over at Five Dials right across to Old Nichol Street through there, and he’d do it ten times each morning before the sun came up, rain or shine.’ A complete lie, but no-one knew.
He’d done his research and knew his facts, however, and there was enough truth in his speech to satisfy the cynical and put down those who thought they knew more than he did.
‘The Old Nichol,’ he would say, quoting from a publication he’d found, ‘is the place between Shoreditch High Street and Bethnal Green. It’s got twenty streets in it with seven hundred and thirty knackered houses where something like six thousand people live. I don’t want to lose any of you decent folks in there, so we ain’t going in ’cos it’s the worst slum in the East End, and there’s more interesting ones for you gents in Greychurch.’

[If you’ve not read The Clearwater Mysteries, Greychurch is Whitechapel. Silas’ facts about the Old Nichol are true.]

He’d stop outside the doss house to give the lad across the street time to count the number and collect just enough meat pies for his tray. Martin Tucker was somehow related Aunt Molly, and by the time Silas’ party emerged from the doss house, would be on the steps with his angelic face cleaned, his smile broad and inviting, but barefoot in his ragged clothes. On some nights, after selling his pies and slipping Silas a percentage, he’d make eyes at the men in the group, and it wasn’t uncommon for a gentleman to hang back, break from the pack and follow the lad into the next door yard. Martin was thirteen.
‘Not all the men what stays here’s a loafer, but the place is men only.’ Silas continued his talk in the lobby, giving Cormack time to check the room they were going to see, hide any women under the beds and lock the children in a cupboard in case any of the tourists were officials in disguise. ‘Most of the men’s seen better days. They got respectable artisans what the waves of trade-depression has overtaken and submerged.’ Some of his patter was lifted directly from the St. James Gazette. ‘They got clerks elbowed out of a berth by the competition of smart young Germans. There’s men what were once shopkeepers who got ruined ’cos the working-folk couldn’t afford their business. Even professional men like solicitors and surgeons can be found among the motley crowd in a kip-‘ouse kitchen. Right, let’s see a room. You might want to tuck your trousers into your boots, Sir.’
‘Oh? Why.’
‘Nippers, mate. Fleas.’
Some of his paying customers asked him personal questions, such as where he lived, and he was able to reply honestly.
‘I got a little gaff with me best mate, Miss, down Limedock. Andrej his name is.’ The honesty didn’t last for long. ‘Comes from Russian royalty, but got kicked out of his country ’cos he married the wrong girl. They killed his kids and his wife, stole his land, so he had to come here. Now works shifting sugar sacks and rocks down at the Lower Pool.’
‘How tragic. But he is an immigrant?’
‘That’s right, Madam.’
‘And you share lodgings with such a man? Why?’
Sometimes Silas had to fight the temptation to punch his guests. ‘Look at it his way, love. Who’d you rather share a bed with, rats or royalty? Watch where you tread here, someone’s had too much gin and left their lunch on the step. Right, this is where I used to sleep…’

Available on Amazon

Finally

The racism suggested in that scene was prevalent, whipped up by newspapers much as it is today, and took a form of classism. The poor of the East End, the immigrants and refugees, were dragging the city down, taking jobs and spreading disease, so said the newspapers then as some, while slumming it in a different fashion, do today, but that’s a subject for another day.

Banyak & Fecks’ is still being written. It is a prequel to The Clearwater Mysteries and a standalone novel, not a mystery, and not MM Romance. Instead, it is a story of friendship and survival. I aim to have it ready later in 2020.

Interview, One of a Pair, and an update

Interview, One of a Pair, and an update

It’s been a busy week here in my writing world.

Firstly, I was interviewed by Alan Wild for his excellent website that features interviews with writers of gay fiction. This interview gives you some personal background about me, includes some photos of where I live, and starts with a photo of me playing a church organ. If you’ve read my standalone YA romantic mystery, ‘The Blake Inheritance’, you will know that I have a particular interest in church organs. The photo was taken a couple of years ago when I returned to my hometown of New Romney, on the Romney Marshes, UK, and was lucky enough to be invited to play for a service I happened up. It was a bit nerve-wracking as I’d not played for years, but the nice thing was that this was the same instrument I learnt to play on over 40 years previously.

Here’s the link to the Interview with Jackson Marsh

Secondly, the eighth book in the clearwater Mystery series was published yesterday. There is a more detailed post about this novel further down my blog, but, in brief: ‘One of a Pair’ continues the story of Jasper and Billy, sees James Wright deal with his first case as the lead investigator of the agency, and brings in the eccentric Dr Markland to play an important role. You may remember Markland from ‘Deviant Desire’ and later, ‘Unspeakable Acts’ where he fell in love with a certain young lady who turned out to be… Ah, no spoilers allowed, sorry.

Here’s the link to ‘One of a Pair’ which can be found on Amazon around the world

While all that has been going on, I have been writing the prequel to the Clearwater Mystery series, and I’ve titled it ‘Banyak & Fecks.’

Those of you who’ve read the series will know who those two are, but what you won’t know, are the details of how they came to meet in London in 1844, and what they were doing between 1844 and October 1888 when ‘Deviant Desire’ starts. Actually, Fecker’s story begins even earlier, in 1881 in Ukraine when he was 13 (or 15, as no-one really knows his exact age). I’m enjoying the research for this one and have been reading about all kinds of things; the history of Ukraine, circuses in the 1800s, ships, the East End slums, language, Victorian rent boys and prostitution, and several other side matters too. No promises on a release date for this one, but I am aiming for the end of this year. I’ll tell you now, it’s not the same as the others, it’s not even a mystery, but it is a story of an unlikely but more or less instant friendship, and how two young men survived the East End streets in the 1800s.

The Clearwater Companion

My writing desk where I research and make notes. The open book is my leather-bound Clearwater ‘bible’, the floor plan is Clearwater House, and the map on the wall is the GWR rail routes circa 1890.

Chugging along in the background is my idea for, one day, producing a Clearwater Companion, a book of information, details, maybe illustrations if I can afford an artist, and other snippets for anyone who might be interested. This is an ongoing project and one that will take a long time to compete. I don’t know yet when the series will end. It may never do as I am enjoying writing it so much, but now and then, when I am not working, I jot down notes in my ‘Companion’ folder for use later. So far, I’ve only written an outline of Archer, Lord Clearwater, but I thought I would share with you what I have.

Remember, these are only notes.

Archer, Lord Clearwater of Riverside and Larkspur

Born: March 26th 1859, Larkspur Hall, Cornwall, second son of the 18th Viscount Clearwater and Lady Clearwater
Full name: Archer Camoys Riddington

Major life events
1868    Attended Millfield Preparatory School
1872    Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth
1874    Midshipmen
1876    Sub-lieutenant, Royal Naval College, Greenwich
1877    Lieutenant aboard HMS Britannia
1886    Honourable discharge after an injury during the Odessa skirmishes. Elevated to ‘The Honourable’ on the incarceration of his elder brother
1888    July. Elevated to the 19th Viscount Clearwater on the death of his father

Full title: Viscount Clearwater of Riverside and Larkspur, Lord Baradan of Hapsburg-Bran, and Honorary Boyar Musat-Râșnov.

We learn his full title in ‘Fallen Splendour’ when he is called into court to testify.

This is the Shutterstock model who represents Archer on the cover of ‘Deviant Desire.’ The image was bought under license.

Titles
A Viscount is the fourth rank of the British peerage system, coming beneath an Earl but above a Baron. The Clearwater of the title is derived from family land owned in the north of the country. Riverside is the family’s London Borough, and Larkspur, their country seat on Bodmin Moor.

Lord Baradan of Hapsburg-Bran. This is a made-up title, intended to show Archer’s European heritage. The Hapsburg (also spelt Habsburg) was one of the principal sovereign dynasties of Europe from the 15th to the 20th century. Hyphenating it with Bran, in what is now Romania, I wanted to make a link with Transylvania. Bran Castle, near Brasov, is known as ‘Dracula’s Castle’, though it has little or nothing to do with Vlad Tepes, Bram Stoker or his novel.

Honorary Boyar Musat-Râșnov. A boyar was a member of the highest rank of the feudal Bulgarian, Russian, Serbian, Wallachian, Moldavian, and later Romanian and Baltic states aristocracies, second only to the ruling princes from the 10th century to the 17th century. Again, I wanted Archer’s roots to run deep in European history in case that would be of use later in the series. Because the title ‘Boyar’ fell out of use in the 17th century, I made him an ‘honorary.’ Rasnov is a place between Bran and Brasov (all of which I have visited). These are all inherited titles, passed down from father to son over the centuries.

Geroy
Fecker first calls Archer ‘Geroy’ in ‘Twisted Tracks’ after Fecker witnesses Archer’s noble actions towards his friends. In Ukrainian/Russian the word герой translates as hero, worthy or valiant.

Archer and Camoys
Archer’s father (Mathias) was obsessed with the battle of Agincourt (25th October 1415). He named his eldest son Crispin, because he was born on the anniversary of the battle which is also St Crispin’s Day. I had in mind Shakespeare’s Henry V, and in particular, the lines, “… we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” In the series, Crispin tried to kill Archer and therefore shed his brother’s blood, but as Archer builds his ‘crew’ of friends, we come to see them as a band of brothers.

Archer was named after the archers who won the battle of Agincourt, and Thomas de Camoys was the English peer who commanded the left wing of the English army at the battle. It is not a name Archer uses very often!

From my notebook
My notes on Archer include the following jottings.
Philanthropist, youngest member of the House of Lords at 29 (1888)
Brown eyes, stubble by evening, fit, prominent cheekbones. Toned. (Big and hairy ‘down there’.)
Doesn’t believe in class distinctions. Didn’t like his father. Gay, modern, forward-thinking.
5′ 10″, pouting lips, dark lashes.
Last time at the servants’ hall table on 13th birthday.
(Father ailing, Crispin mad, Archer to succeed, recovering from Odessa skirmish of 1886. Father, Mathias, 51, hunting accident (?) Father: 1837 to 1888)
‘Geroy’ by Fecks (honourable)

Have a good week and I will be back next Saturday. Remember, you can always post comments about the blog on my Facebook page, and if you go there, please do give a like and share.

This is a photo of us celebrating our three-year wedding anniversary, 18 years since arriving on Symi, and Neil’s birthday which all happened on the same day, September 8th. Neil’s the one pulling a funny face and wearing a top hat; he’s far more into SteamPunk than I am.

Hot and busy here in Greece

Hot and busy here in Greece

My husband took this the other day at sunrise

Yesterday was July 1st. The temperature in the courtyard, in the shade, was 28 degrees at 6.30 in the morning. The day before, it had reached 36 at four in the afternoon, in the shade in the courtyard. For those who don’t know, I live on a Greek island (hence the photos). It relies on tourism to survive, but so far this year, we’ve had no-one visit. That’s starting to change now, and hopefully, local businesses will be able to start picking up the pieces. Meanwhile…

My latest story, ‘Artful Deception‘ was published last month (“I think this is one of the best in the series.” Amazon review), and the next one, ‘Home From Nowhere’ is about to go off to the proofreader, and should be out by the end of this month. Meanwhile, I have started tinkering with a new novel, another in the on-going Clearwater saga set in 1889.

To that end, I now have a shelf of books about the period including books about Jack the Ripper (1888), clothing and costume of the 19th century, real accounts from those living below and above stairs, Mr Beeton’s book of household management, a few more books about being in service, stately homes (including floor plans), and books about the railways with maps. I think I need a new bookshelf. I also have a couple more books on the way, one more about costume, a dictionary of Cockney rhyming slang with notes on whether the slang is new or old, 20th century or earlier. What I need to look at next is arsenic poisoning. Well, you have to, don’t you?

Draft cover

As for ‘Home From Nowhere’, this is a slightly different Clearwater novel. I thought it was about time we saw the characters from someone else’s point of view and found out what affect Archer’s generosity has on other people. There is a mystery. It comes in the shape of Jasper Blackwood, who you would have met briefly in ‘Artful Deception’ at Kingsclere House. Typical of me, the mystery revolves around music and messages from the past, and the ‘crew’ are the ones to solve it. This means we see Archer, Tom, James and Silas at work in their detecting venture while learning about what goes on below stairs with the other servants, mainly Jasper. Another new character is also introduced, Billy Barnett, and as you will see when the new book is out (hopefully later this month), Jasper and Billy will be an on-going feature for another book or so, at least.

Our home – on the right.

Anyway, I don’t want to give too much away, just to say, I am having so much fun writing these tales that I intend to carry on, even if the series runs to ten or more, I’ll keep going until the time feels right to stop. Although I won’t rule out pausing now and then to write something different, as I did earlier this year with ‘The Students of Barrenmoor Ridge’, which, I am pleased to say, continues to do well.

That’s it for now. Stay safe wherever you are, remember to like and follow on Facebook and leave reviews where you can, drop me a line if you’ve got anything you want to say or ask, and look after yourselves. Right! Now I am heading back to September 1889 because I have Clearwater book eight to think about, and it’s time we had a poisoning…

Home From Nowhere

Home From Nowhere

Hello everyone. I thought it was about time for another blog post, just to check in and let you know what I am up to.

As usual, I have been writing. In this case, I have been working on a new Clearwater mystery, ‘Home From Nowhere’ (book seven). I don’t know how long a series is meant to go on for, but I am enjoying writing this one, so I’m carrying on regardless. However, I felt the murder and mayhem, wild adventures and on-going battles of the Clearwater Crew needed a breather, so book number seven will be different.

This chap reminded me of Thomas Payne, Archer’s best friend and butler.

I thought it was time we saw the crew from someone else’s point of view, and experienced life at Clearwater House from a new character’s perspective. So, ‘Home From Nowhere’ breaks from the two-word titles from the past and starts us on a different kind of mystery; no ‘meet a deadline or be dead’, no nasty villain, just a gentle mystery and the start of a love story that will continue in part eight. The sort of story you can put your feet up and relax with, and come away from with a sense of feel-good, like watching an episode of Downton Abbey.

This doesn’t mean there’s no mystery to solve, and Archer, James and Silas are the ones to take the mystery and work out the clues, but they are doing it on behalf of the new character who, if you have read ‘Artful Deception‘ you would have briefly met at Kingsclere House.

As usual, I have mixed real people, times, events and facts with some fictional ones, and there is a background theme, in this case, it’s music.

‘Home From Nowhere’ is currently in draft one stage, which means I’ve told myself the story on paper and now need to rest it for a few days before I return to it and a) check the mystery ties up, b) check consistency generally, c) see to as many of my typos as I can find, and d) improve, edit and cut.

Clearwater House ground floor (click to enlarge)

Meanwhile, my cover designer is working on a cover image and, to give myself a break from typing, I set about drawing a floorplan of Clearwater House. As you will see, I am no technical drawer or architect, though I based some of the details on a book I have that gives floorplans and elevations of Victorian houses – none of which fitted Clearwater House exactly. I doubt that if a house was built to my plans, it would stay up for very long! Still, I thought I would share my amateur attempt to give you an idea of how I see the house laid out (sorry about it being a bit squiffy and blotted with smudged felt-tip pen). I’ve only done the ground and first floors so far, I still have the basement and top floor to go. The shaded areas are the servant’s department, the backstairs and servery etc.

Clearwater House 1st floor plan (click to enlarge)

As for other news… Over here in Greece, the island on which I live is very quiet. We are starting to see a few tourists arrive, and we have had no cases of you-know-what, so people are worried about visitors coming from more infected countries. My husband, Neil, is working back at the bar he looks after seven afternoons per week until October, but so far, has had only local customers, while I am carrying on as usual, at home, writing. Which is what I will get back to now.

There’s no definite release date for ‘Home From Nowhere’ yet, I’ve only just let ‘Artful Deception’ out of its cage, but I am going to try and be more regular with my blog posting, so there will be updates as we head deeper into the year.

Stay safe, stay well and most of all, stay reading (and putting up helpful reviews on Amazon and social media if you possibly can).

Thank you for reading
Jackson

My Facebook page

Thank you, suzunh, for the 1st review of ‘Artful Deception’

I love this series
Reviewed in the United States on June 15, 2020
All of them are good. Sure, they’re a little wild sometimes but they are a heck of a lot of fun. I like that the same characters return for every book and I’m excited they are going into business together. Can’t wait to read the next one.

Clearwater’s London

Welcome to Clearwater’s London

It has been a while since I posted on my site. That’s because I was away for a while and spending much of my time working on the sixth instalment of The Clearwater Mysteries.

Book six is now going through its second draft, and it’s a bit of a belter. A twisting tale of deception as Archer battles to outwit his arch-enemy and stay one step ahead of the game. Titled, ‘Artful Deception’, this one brings back some of the more popular characters from previous books such as the barrister Creswell and young Jake, half-brother to Silas’ sisters. The action takes us from Kingsclere House in Berkshire to Clearwater House in London and on to the Netherlands where Archer has no option but to release his murderous brother and reinstate him to the title of Viscount Clearwater.

Or does he?

There will be more information about the book’s release in time.

Meanwhile, as I was passing through London earlier this year, I took some photos of locations used in the Clearwater Mysteries and thought I would share them with you. They’re not the best photos, sadly, but I thought it was a fun exercise to see places Archer and his comrades have trod. Things look very different now to 1888 and 1889 when ‘Artful Deception’ is set, but you can still feel the original Victorian grandeur of these places.

So, just for amusement, here are some of the locations I found when I was there.

The Royal Opera House where Silas nearly dies in Unspeakable Acts.

Bow Street police station opposite the Opera House. Fallen Splendour.

The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square. This appears in Artful Deception.

The National Gallery

The Criterion. Now a theatre, Silas and Jake had lunch here (Piccadilly) in Bitter Bloodline.

The Ivy, Seven Dials, which in my books is called ‘The Grapevine’ at Five Dials. Archer and Quill lunched here in Deviant Desire.

The side of the Lyceum Theatre from Bitter Bloodline. Silas found Jake homeless on this street corner.

The side of the Lyceum Theatre from Bitter Bloodline. I imagined Stoker’s office was at the top/back (round window), but I have no idea where it really was in the building.

Charing Cross railway station will appear in Artful Deception

The Garrick Club, Archer’s club in Covent Garden. It is mentioned in several of the books.

This street doesn’t appear in the books, but it is called Archer Street. Perhaps it was named after the viscount? The Windmill revue theatre beside it is famous for its nude revues. Silas would have approved; Thomas would not have done!

Welcome to Larkspur Hall

Welcome to Larkspur Hall.

Hi. Sorry I’ve not posted much of late, I have been working hard on part five of the Clearwater Mysteries, ‘Bitter Bloodline.’ It’s now done and going off to be proof read this week. meanwhile, my cover designer is working her magic on the cover, and I am writing the fourth book in my ‘Saddling Mysteries’ series, under my name, James Collins.

Larkspur Hall‘Bitter Bloodline’ should be available in November. Meanwhile, here is one of the images Andjela K is working on for the cover. It is the closest stock image I could find to show Larkspur Hall. I imagine it will look a lot different when she is done with it! Meanwhile, can I try out this draft blurb on you? This is what I have for the back of the book and the Amazon pages:

Following an accident, a schoolboy and a tattooed Romanian find themselves unexpected guests at Clearwater’s country house, Larkspur Hall.

But what if their presence is no accident? What if Mr Smith is Protectori, a member of an ancient order of assassins bent on destroying anyone who sullies the name of the Szekely people of Transylvania? And what do a runaway boy and an assassin have to do with Clearwater’s famed Easter dinner party and its guest of honour, the actor, Henry Irving?

Ancestral feuds, a pocket watch and a rare Romanian wine are seemingly random connections until Silas breaks into a London theatre, and James rescues a boy from drowning. Then, it’s a race against time to prevent a hideous murder and Archer’s ruin.

The Clearwater Mysteries are best read in order. Bitter Bloodline is a no-heat mystery that sees Archer’s loyal servants become their own band of Protectori.

Clearwater Mysteries

A Clearwater update

A Clearwater update

My wonderful designer, Andjela, has come up with some banners and images for me for use on my Facebook page and the blog. I thought I’d share a couple now just to let regular readers know that I am still here and haven’t forgotten about my website. I’ve just released Fallen Splendour, the 4th Clearwater Mystery and am at a bit of a crossroads. I need to get back to my other series, The Saddling, and finish the final part of that. You won’t find The Saddling Mysteries under Jackson Marsh though, they are released under my real name, James Collins.

If you want to view them, head to my James Collins author page. They need to be read in order: The Saddling, The Witchling, The Eastling and… the one I’ve yet to write. They are not MM Romance as such, though the three main characters are men.

One comes to terms with being gay through part one, finds love with the second character in part two and onwards, and the third main character is ambiguous – and may turn out to be gay in part four. But… The series is set in a village (in the 21st century) on the Romney Marshes – Kent, England, that still lives by its own ancient lore and teaching – a non-Christian, non-religious place where nature and the supernatural are the driving forces. I wrote these three before I wrote the Clearwater Mysteries and they are different, though similar (no sex), and to be honest, the Saddling started off as a one-off, but was so popular, people asked for a second and then a third, so the pressure is on to produce the fourth.

They have themes – a lot of family and other history, but also, more subliminally, the number four is important: four seasons, four festivals (two solstice, two equinox), four points of the compass and, in part four, four men banding together to save the day…I think.

I’ll leave it there and go to the writing desk to dream up some ideas. Meanwhile, thanks for your support, please share this blog and whatever you can on Facebook, Insta-what’s-it and elsewhere. If you enjoy the novels, I need your support to help others enjoy them too.

Thank you all!