Some Reference Gems

This week, I have been researching all manner of facts for ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, while writing a few draft chapters. We’ve also had a major storm and a mild earthquake, neither of which are uncommon in Greece at this time of year. However, nothing stops Jackson Marsh when he is in full flow, and apart from the occasional internet outage, nothing stops the research. Actually, when the internet is out, I turn to my books and read, if necessary, by torchlight.

The Larkspur Legacy’ is turning into something of an epic; an end of season double episode, if you like, as it will bring the Clearwater and Larkspur mysteries together and to an end. It’s also a book with diverse points of view, because the main characters get flung far and wide as  they struggle to solve the clues and treasure hunt begun in ‘Starting with Secrets.’ So, for that reason, my research has been wide-ranging, and while researching, I came across a few sites that might be of interest to other writers and readers.

Here are some of the subjects I found online while delving into the past this past week. Where I found a decent site, I’ve added the link in case you are interested.

The history of sound recording. (Wiki; always double-check what you read.)

Ships’ bells explained. Did you know eight bells happens six times per day? Once during each of the eight watches, save the first dog watch.

Sea routes and port distances. Ever wondered how long it would take to sail from Alexandria in Egypt to Falmouth in Cornwall? Assuming good weather and a constant speed of 10 knots, this online calculator puts it at 13.7 days.

Here’s a handy list of sailing terms. Not the ‘shiver me timbers’ kind, either.

A short history of the Cutty Sark. For anyone interested in clipper ships.

Irish proverbs. For Silas Hawkins and his mother, of course.

Strong words Vs weak words (for writers) very handy when you come to write the blurb.

A (free) dictionary of Cornish dialect. Me’ansome, me-lover, me-duck, and other colloquialisms to give your character’s authenticity.

Cook’s tourists’ handbook for Egypt, the Nile, and the Desert. [Electronic Edition] Just what I was looking for as it gives routes, timetables, details of sites to visit and much more.

View of the Temple at Luxor, 1880s. Antonio Beato (English, born Italy, about 1835, 1906). Albumen silver print.

500 alternative words for ‘said’ – very handy, but don’t overdo them in your dialogue tags.

Those are but a few of the places I have been this week online. I’ve also looked up the causes of death during pregnancy (1890), names of various piece of Egyptian costume, the distance between Mounts Bay and Bodmin, and Greece and Calais, steamships operating across the English Channel in 1891, how to distil oil from garlic and fish, extinct titles of the nobility, and how to sail a barquentine.

Because ‘Legacy’ sees the culmination of both series, I’ve also had to do a lot of back-checking, because the Clearwater cast are in the book along with the Larkspur Academy Men. In particular, one character’s story begun in 1884, comes to a conclusion in 1891. That character has been in every book through the series, if not on stage then off stage and mentioned, and I thought it high time we rounded him off – as it were.

You will see what I mean in due course.

Catch up with my Work In Progress blog next Wednesday and I’ll let you know how close I am to finishing the first draft.

How One Thing Leads to Another

As Silas Hawkins’ mother would say,

“Today I am serving up a steaming bowl of this is how it is.

I was sitting here at five this morning trying to decide what to put on the blog today, and not coming up with any ideas. I am currently heading towards the crisis/climax of ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ (first draft), and my head is full of times, dates, relationships, twists, clues and explainers. I don’t have much room for anything else. So, for inspiration, I turned to my collection of folders and files where I sometimes jot ideas, and there, I came across a folder titled ‘The Castle’. Having no idea what this could be, I opened it and found the file:


Cast of characters

The cast of characters also contained a brief synopsis, and here it is:

  • Fleet saves Alder from a beating. Inventor sees, gives him the chance to escape with him to the distant castle.
  • Fleet has no choice
  • Fleet will only go if the mute comes too – Mute wants to, neither have homes/families (at this stage)
  • Journey at night
  • Arrive at castle not knowing what’s in store.

Believe it or not, those notes are what led to The Larkspur Mysteries, and in particular, the characters of Fleet and Joe Tanner. It’s always interesting to see how one idea can lead to another. I wrote one chapter of this thing, decided it wasn’t right for this idea, and set it aside.

In the absence of anything else to entertain you with today, I thought I would post some of that first chapter, as a bonus read while you wait for something more interesting to come along. For some reason, I can’t get these pages to layout the text as you’d see it in a book, so apologies for that, and also for the state of this rough draft extract of a chapter that never was – or hasn’t yet been. (It might appear in ‘Barbary Fleet and Other Matters; The Clearwater & Larkspur Companion’ later in the year.)

The eviction of poor Irish families from Leather Lane, London Illustrated News, 1892

The year is 1889, the place is London

A penny bought most things in Leather Lane market. A glass of sherbet, a live mackerel, a comb, a crab, or four windfall oranges with skin as discoloured as the winter-bitten cheeks of the hawkers who lined the crowded path between the stalls. Hard-bake morsels and gown pieces, an inch of braid or a soft potato, finest dates from the Arabs with stones to break teeth, and spices from the Indies laced with bean flour and alum. Everything was sought and anything was available.

‘A posey for your lady, Sir?’ Fading aconites offered in a gloved fist across a tray of crumbling heather; a purple gift of poison in flowering form.

‘Enamel buttons for your coat, young man?’ Drilled and ready. ‘Three-a-penny,’ and recently clipped from the jaw of a corpse.

Onions and old iron, scraps and scabbards, lucky tickets to win a slaughtered lamb, or a brace of pigeons hooked by the feet, necks swinging. Kentish turnips and hops, Suffolk fabrics in stash, stack and bundle, Norfolk eels contorting in the melting ice, and Whitstable oysters whistling their asphyxiation on dry, wooden trays.

Hands that grabbed with, ‘Good fortune for you when you buy a bunch, Sir,’ and toothless mouths that spat, ‘Then the devil will take ye, rantallion,’ when answered with ‘No, thank you.’

Barbary Fleet didn’t need heather, whether charmed or cursed, and he was not a rantallion, not that he was able to prove it without exposing himself. He had no need of Arabic dates or doctored anise, twisted twine or dead men’s teeth to fasten his darktail coat, he had come to the market for a purchase of vital importance, and he knew where it was to be found.

So intent was he on his mission, he failed to notice he was being followed.

Edging between the canvas stalls and clouds of smoke wafted from the chestnut braziers, he ducked the awnings of skinned hares and alley cats, left the polluted stream of bargain hunters, and took the pavement. If the market were a cobbled canal of hucksters and tricksters, the pavement behind the stalls was its towpath, quieter and lined by semi-respectable woodcarvers and tailors. Suited men and women in aprons who didn’t need to sing their wares like desperate chanteurs de rue, and grab at every passing farthing as though it were their last chance, but who stood behind tinkling doors folding cloth and blowing dust from chisels with smiles prepared and welcoming.

Fleet didn’t need them either, nor did he need the annoying drips of gutter rain that tapped his hair, or the wind that leapt from alley openings to slap his already pounding head. The piles of rotting offcuts and steaming dog stools were other inconveniences he could have done without as he picked his way towards his destination at Drift Corner, and the pocket-dipping urchins who swarmed at his tails like flies at the midden were as aggravating as his foolishness.

Who wagers their last five shillings on a bait dog? Who, but a romantic dolt would risk home and hunger on a lone pup because he couldn’t resist the lure of the underdog and believed its handler when told the money would save the hound from a fight? Who but Barbary Fleet would cry when the fight was over, not because he had lost everything bar one shilling, but because the pup lay twitching in its own blood, its sad eyes fading? Who, but a lonesome, straggle of a man like Fleet would spend ten of his last pennies on Shadwell gin with no thought for bread or board because he believed everything would come right in the morning?

‘But you saved tuppence,’ he told himself, swiping away the investigations of a pocket-dipper. ‘You won’t find anything in there, young Sir,’ he said, lifting the child by its collar and turning it away. ‘I should try someone whose pockets jangle like sleigh bells, rather than gasp for sustenance.’

Nearing Drift Corner, he reminded himself that, somehow through his drunken stupor, he had saved tuppence for an exceptionally good reason, and that reason was now upon him.

It came in the form of one of the prettiest girls he’d seen in this part of town. A girl not yet twenty but edging towards it with the hope that youth would remain while experience blossomed, and yet, unlike himself, she was short, demur and employed. She stood at the junction with her tray suspended from her waist but just above his knees, rearranging her wares while singing a tuneless air about a variety of knots and the usefulness of brass-tipped laces. Her ochre eyes were fixed nowhere but in her imagination, and her hair was crammed beneath a straw bonnet.

She returned from her daydreaming, and her song ended abruptly when Fleet announced, ‘Your meal ticket for the day has arrived, Miss. Are you eager to attend it with care and quiet, for its head rages like the storm that sunk the Hesperus taking with it the skipper’s pride in the way a dog’s death has wrecked mine?’

The girl blinked at him, and said, ‘What?’ in the same flat, disinterested tone with which most people greeted Fleet.

‘I need two of your penny laces.’

She tutted, and lifted a pair from her tray as a washerwoman might lift a stranger’s soiled underclothes.

‘Tuppence.’

‘I thought as much,’ Fleet bowed his head. ‘The clue is in your signage, Miss. There, where it states, “Tuppence a pair.” May I suggest — purely for the entertainment of your clientele — you consider something more akin to a challenge in your advertising?’

‘What?’ That time, it was more of a grunt than a question.

‘For a man whose head is as close to combustion as his stomach, the distraction of a conundrum is more soothing than an apothecary’s powder. Perhaps, if your board simply stated, “Laces” or even, for the uncertain, “Boot laces”, your customers might have cause to enter into an absorbing dialogue, and your trade would entertain as well as serve.’

‘D’you want the bloody things or not?’

The bustle of the market was of more interest to her than conversation, as she swayed the laces and yawned. However, when Fleet opened his coat to retrieve his wallet, her gaze slid back into place. He was tall and slender, but not willowy, and he didn’t dangle like her wares, but held himself erect as if self-assured, which, beneath his well-fitting suit, he was not. The girl’s eyes strayed to and fastened upon, the landscape between the bottom of his waistcoat and the rise of his trousers. It rested there an impolite second before travelling to his face and greeting it with an indecent grin.

‘Or would you rather have me for a shilling?’
She winked, and Fleet sighed.

‘I fear your conversation is as unalluring to me as your sex, Miss.’ He dropped two pennies into her tray, took the laces and twirled them around an agile finger until they were coiled like a ring. ‘And there we have it. I would doff my hat, but it has gone the way of most everything else once in my possession. Should you require a Broadway Topper — an American import, I fear — you will find one at leisure in Cohen’s pawnbrokers just off Drury Lane. Thus, Miss, I can only wish you a good day.’

His laces bought, he looked for a place to raise his feet and insert them into his boots, wondering whether he shouldn’t have used the last of his money on something more practical like a meal, but decided that the appearance of tied boots would be more beneficial to a prospective employer than flapping footwear, and approached a step. Glancing at the engraved glass door, he read, “Mouthgot’s Intricate Plasterwork” and thought it a good a place as any, but wondered, ‘Whose mouth has plasterwork and why so intricate?’


As you can see, Fleet started out as a swaggering, slim youth, which is not how he is portrayed in the Larkspur series. As for the mute, and the Joe Tanner character, he enters this scene as Fleet is tying his new laces. Perhaps I will post that section of the chapter another time. For now, Joe is currently engaged in a treasure hunt along with the other Larkspur Academy men, and as I have left them on pause, I need to get back to them and see what they do next. I’ll let you know more about the progress of ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ on my work-in-progress blog on Wednesday. Have a great weekend.

Oh, and if you don’t know what a rantallion is, Google the word. It’s a fun one to use as a counter-insult.

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

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! I am back to blogging, and kicking off 2023 with an update on what I have been doing.

In the film, ‘Throw Momma from the Train’, Billy Crystal’s character says,

‘A writer writes. Always.’

Well, I say,

‘A writer not only writes but he also researches’,

and that is what I was doing during my Christmas and New Year break.

Athens – a Location for ‘The Larkspur Legacy’

In the next, and final, Larkspur Mystery, some of the characters find themselves in Athens, Greece, and I found myself there only last week. Neil and I went with our logical family, Jenine, and our youngest godson, Harry. (Our elder godson, at 19, opted to stay at home and spend his free time from college with some friends.)

Living on Symi, any journey must start with a ferry, and after walking down to the harbour in the early morning, we took the one-hour crossing to Rhodes. From there, it was a bus to the airport, a 40-minute flight to Athens, and a pre-booked taxi to the area of Thissio and our rented apartment. The next three-and-a-half days were filled with walking, eating, and seeing the sights/sites. Some of those we visited are pictured on the blog today, and one of them will feature in ‘The Larkspur Legacy.’ Even though it’s only for one or two chapters, Athens plays a part, but it is not Athens as we see it now, but as it was in 1991.

The Acropolis

One day on our trip, we took a guided walk around parts of the city with a knowledgeable guide, and I asked him what he knew about the city in 1891. From this, I gleaned some information I’d not found in my research, and he took us to the outside of the home of Heinrich Schliemann, the archaeologist who discovered the location of the ancient city of Troy*, among other things. I never knew he was in Athens in 1891, but sadly, he won’t feature in the book because it wouldn’t be relevant.

*[Wiki says: Schliemann was a German adventurer and con man who took sole credit for the discovery, even though he was digging at the site, called Hisarlik, at the behest of British archaeologist Frank Calvert.]

The Temple of Hephaestus

Among the places we visited were the Acropolis (of course), The Temple of Hephaestus in the Ancient Agora, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Philopappos Hill, and the site of the original home of democracy, Pynx, the hill overlooking the Acropolis, and the first official meeting place of the Athenian democratic assembly (ekklesia). We also saw the car museum, ate food Indian, Chinese, Greek and Mexican, and, on our last day, visited the famous flea market.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Imagine the joy of wandering antique and second-hand book shops again as I used to years ago in London.

While doing so, I found two books that I have already ploughed through in my search for details of Athens in 1891; one about the Plaka area, and one about mapmakers and mapping of the Aegean. I could have spent the whole four days in these bookshops, but half an hour was all I could manage, otherwise, I’d have broken my bank.

The Tower of the Four Winds, Plaka.

And into 2023

Now, back home, I have taken up my morning walks again, and although they only cover two miles, they give me 40 minutes of alone time. This morning while walking, I unlocked the ‘How are they going to do that?’ part of ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ which has so far evaded me, and now have notes on how that climax is to go.

So, it’s, again, a Happy New Year from me, and not being one for resolutions, I am making no promises. However, for the first half of this year I intend to finish and release ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, bringing the saga to a close by, hopefully, the end of March. After that, I want to produce a Clearwater & Larkspur Companion to tie up any loose ends and give my readers something extra to accompany both series. The working title is currently: ‘Barbary Fleet and Other Matters; a Clearwater and Larkspur Companion.’

And a quick reminder if you would still like to vote for the Goodreads Awards the polls are still open for a couple more days. The links to the categories are at the bottom of this blog post, click here.

I’ll leave it there. There will be more about the work in progress, ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, on my Wednesday blog when I will update you on progress as my writing world gets back to ‘normal.’ Remember

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.

Starting with Secrets: What is it?

Starting with Secrets’ is the title of the sixth Larkspur Academy mystery, and is the first part of a two-part adventure set in the Clearwater world. This, as you may know, is my invention of late 19th-century England. Both the Clearwater and Larkspur mystery series is set among real places, and feature people who lived at the time, but the main cast is invented characters. Many of the background events are true, and the Clearwater world sticks to actual dates and times as much as possible. I am even able to have characters take train journeys according to extant timetables of the time, down to the day of the week, route and times of the trains. I love adding that kind of detail.

Starting with Secrets has such a train journey, and it also uses real locations, described as best I can according to reports and documents of the time. In this case, we have the invented estate of Larkspur Hall, another one in Hertfordshire, Clearwater House (somewhere on the edge of Hyde Park in Knightsbridge, London), and Greychurch, which is my name for Whitechapel. The characters find themselves in some well-known locations, such as inside the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral and the Round Reading Room at the British Museum, both in London. They also visit villages that still exist today, although I have changed the names of two of the main locations to not upset anyone who might still be living there or who might own the property I have adapted.

I won’t give away the plot of ‘Starting with Secrets’, but if you like a good Dan Brown mystery/adventure, and if you like historically based riddles and conspiracy theories, then you’ll like this novel. I’ve tried to write it so you can solve the clues as the story progresses. At least, you can with some of them. What I am also trying to do with this two-part adventure is bring in as many of the Clearwater and Larkspur main characters as I can without losing focus. There is a relationship story, a background emotional reason for two characters to sort themselves out, and there is at least one ‘Ahh’ moment when I, for one, experienced a shiver and the prick of tears. You will find villains, heroes and a couple of new characters that we’ll learn more about in part two, and there’s a lot going on in the background where existing characters’ lives are developed.

It’s been three years since the saga started with ‘Deviant Desire’, the first Clearwater mystery, and even longer since Silas and Andrej met in ‘Banyak & Fecks.’ Actually, the more I write these series, the more I realise the whole lot tells the story of Andrej, a Ukrainian immigrant who fled his homeland to escape the Russians. (Nothing changes.)

Although Andrej, ‘Fecks’, is not the main-view character in ‘Starting with Secrets’, he is there, along with others we met in book one of the Clearwater series, Lucy Roberts the maid-then-cook, for example. Archer, Silas, James, Tom and Andrej, the ‘canonical five’ as I call them, form the centre of the cast for this one, and they are aided by the Larkspur Academy men, Dalston Blaze, Joe Tanner, Chester, Frank, Edward and Henry, and the new man, Bertie Tucker. Bertie’s a sailor, or was until he got caught doing something that was, in those days, illegal, and he’s the unwitting catalyst in both action and emotional storylines.

But that’s enough of a teaser for now. As I write (Friday), I am waiting for the final files to come back from being laid out, and then, as I now have both covers, I shall be able to upload the book to Amazon and you’ll be able to download it, order it in paperback or read it in Kindle Unlimited, as you can with all my novels. So, not long now, and you will have a 380-page adventure, bromance, mystery, treasure hunt story to get your teeth into, while I carry on biting away at the last in the Larkspur series, ‘The Larkspur Legacy.’

Keep an eye on my Facebook page for news of the publication day, and why not join my group, Jackson’s Deviant Desires where I post more personal news from time to time and where you and others can discuss any or all of my books.

Starting with Secrets: Cover Reveal

I have sent ‘Starting with Secrets’ to be formatted, I have both covers, and we’re nearly ready to launch the sixth Larkspur Mystery upon you. To reward you for your patience, today we have the blurb and the cover reveal.

It feels as if it’s been a long journey to get this novel ready to add to the series, but in truth, it’s not taken any longer than any of the others. It has taken more research and there is a lot more detail, there are more clues than ever, and a wide cast of main players. ‘Secrets’ has probably taken up more pages in my notebook than any of the others too, and when you get deeper into the story you will realise why.

Now, I must start work proper on the last in the series, and if I thought ‘Secrets’ was a hard beast to tame, I am sure ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ is going to be even more in-depth, detailed, complicated and yet fun to get right. Work on that starts this afternoon. Meanwhile, here’s the blurb for ‘Secrets’ which should be available in a few days.

Starting with Secrets

The Larkspur Mysteries

Book Six

“The greatest reward often lies at the end of the stoniest path.”

Lady Dorothy Marshall, March 1891

When Lord Clearwater inherits a set of enigmatic clues and a compass, it becomes clear he has the means to uncover a momentous secret. He calls upon the men of the Larkspur Academy to help with the hunt, including the latest recruit, the bewildered ex-sailor, Bertie Tucker.

The academy men investigate follies, national monuments and ancient churches, using their diverse skills to unlock a series of random messages. The men must work together to find Clearwater’s secret and ‘treasure’, but relationships threaten the status quo. Edward Hyde has turned his affections from Henry and aimed them at Bertie Tucker, opening a rift which must be mended if the hunt is to succeed.

And when two of Clearwater’s adversaries conspire to beat him to the secret, what begins as an adventure becomes a game of cat and mouse that leads to a fight for survival.

Starting with Secrets is the sixth book in the Larkspur Mysteries series. With themes of friendship, bromance, male love and revenge, the story is the first part of a two-part adventure, and combines historical fact with fiction. As with all of Jackson Marsh’s mysteries, the novel contains humour, love and action, while offering the reader the chance to solve the clues with the cast of disparate, well-drawn characters.

Cover Reveal

Click the image to open the full front cover.

Starting with Secrets: First Look at the Blurb

I have almost finished Starting, by which I mean ‘Starting with Secrets’, the sixth Larkspur Mystery, is nearing completion. Neil is beta reading it as I write, and Andjela is working on the cover. Meanwhile, I am working on the author’s notes and the blurb ahead of sending it all to be proofread on the 28th.

Because I don’t yet have a cover, I’m including some photos that are relevant to the story to give you a taster of what’s coming.

These are not necessarily shots for the cover. We’ll do a cover reveal nearer the publication date, which should be around the middle of November. That gives you plenty of time to catch up on the rest of the series if you haven’t already started it. You can find all Larkspur Novels on the Amazon Larkspur Mystery series page, and the adventures, which follow the Clearwater Mysteries, begin with ‘Guardians of the Poor.’

What is Starting with Secrets about?

I’m not about to give away the plot, but if you want keywords, then this collection will do:

Mystery (of course), Treasure hunt, Misplaced affection, Twists, Revenge, Childhood memories, Drama, Adventure, History, Humour, Compass, Maps, Clues, and, as usual, Bromance.

The story continues a couple of months after Speaking in Silence.’ There is a new man at the Larkspur Academy, Bertie Trucker, and he’s feeling out of place. Up at Larkspur Hall, Archer, now the Earl of Clearwater, receives a message and a gift; a compass. This sets him and his crew off on an adventure — a treasure hunt of sorts, which can only be completed with the help of the friends and men he has gathered around him since the first Clearwater Mystery began in ‘Deviant Desire.’

This means everyone who has read either series can catch up with their favourite characters, because throughout this book and the next, all main characters from both series will have a role to play. Whether you’re a Fecker fan or a James junkie, an Archer admirer or a Dalston devotee, you will find your man (and woman, for those of us nuts about Mrs Norwood or loopy about Lucy) playing an active role in ‘Starting with Secrets’ and the follow-on book, ‘The Larkspur Legacy’—which I’ve not started writing yet, but will begin very soon.

You see, ‘Starting with Secrets’ is the start of a two-parter, and it starts with a secret, as you might have guessed. I suppose it’s a little Dan Brown-esque in its mixing of fact and fiction, and like one of his great adventure/fact/fiction novels, there is an evil villain keeping pace with and sometimes overtaking the heroes. There is more than one villain, actually, because where Archer has built a solid crew of loyal friends and experts, so the villain needs others to help him realise his evil aims.

Starting with Secrets Blurb

That’s more than enough advanced warning about the story. Here is the first draft of the blurb, the text that will go on the back of the book, and on its Amazon page and other publicity. Bear in mind this is only a draft, and the wording may change, although the story outline won’t.

Starting with Secrets

The Larkspur Mysteries

Book six

“The greatest reward lies at the end of the stoniest path.”

Lady Dorothy Marshall, March 1891

When Lord Clearwater inherits a set of enigmatic clues and a compass, it becomes clear he has the means to uncover a momentous secret. He calls upon the men of the Larkspur Academy to help with the hunt, including the latest recruit, the bewildered ex-sailor, Bertie Tucker.

The academy men investigate follies, national monuments and ancient churches, using their diverse skills to unlock a series of random messages. The men must work together to find Clearwater’s secret and ‘treasure’, but relationships threaten the status quo. Edward Hyde has turned his affections from Henry and aimed them at Bertie Tucker, opening a rift which must be mended if the hunt is to succeed.

And when two of Clearwater’s adversaries conspire to beat him to the secret, what begins as an adventure becomes a game of cat and mouse that leads to a fight for survival.

What Next?

Next come the beta reading, cover design, author’s notes, final blurb, proofreading, proof accepting, internal layout and finally, in about a month, publication.

So, that is where ‘Starting with Secrets’ is starting. The question is, where will it all end?

A Quick Journey Through ‘Starting with Secrets’

A Quick Journey Through ‘Starting with Secrets’

Don’t worry, I am not going to give away any spoilers. Today, I’ve put up images of some of the ‘props’ featured in the next Larkspur Mystery. These are very general, so don’t take the images as the actual locations or props, because if I did that, I would be giving away the answers to clues the Clearwater crew must solve on their treasure hunt. When I say props, I mean all manner of things that are used in the story, and I include locations in that—but not the places you will see below.

I find visual aids such as photos help me imagine my locations, many of which I have never been to, and some of which don’t exist. Larkspur Hall, for example, is modelled on a few stately homes and not just one. So, here are a few images that have inspired locations or ‘things’ in the next book (and one or two for part two of the story, The Larkspur Legacy, which will be the next book). This is purely to whet your appetite. If you want to know how the writing is coming along, check the Wednesday WIP blog.

It starts with a compass. (Btw, Neil bought me one just like this for our wedding anniversary last Thursday.)

I couldn’t resist some silverware

Then, there’s something to do with an old barn…

A country house…

And then to London…

There will, of course, be maps and plans…

And we go to somewhere like this:

And later, there will be a bit of this…

And along the way, there will be a little drama…

And, you’ll meet a new character (or two).

[Photos from Wikicommons]

Work In Progress: 4.5

Starting With Secrets

This week’s update: I am at Chapter 28 and at 99,000 words with, I imagine, four major scenes left to go as we fall into the finale. A scene might be one chapter, or it might be two or three, so I reckon I am looking at around 130,000 words by the time draft one is finished. Remember, this is the first part of a much longer story, which will conclude in the following book. How I am going to make the second one as intriguing, complex and rewarding as this one remains to be seen, but I know I have a fair amount of research to do. How to sail a 19th-century sailing ship for one thing.

Work was briefly interrupted on Monday, and here’s why. For the last couple of weeks, we’ve had a rat living in the lean-to roof. I saw the evidence before I heard it, and wondered how we were going to get rid of it. They come in from the ruins and pieces of wasteland around our hillside village, and we’ve had one before that used to leave its droppings in the spare toilet, though it never learnt to flush. As the lean-to roof is inaccessible without pulling the whole thing apart, we bought some humane poison from the pet shop. I put down three tablets and left the other five in the bag on the counter. The next day, not only had all three gone but so had the bag.

Victorian rat catcher and his dog (Wikicommons)

The rat continued to occupy the roof and our minds, and the ‘treatment’ appeared not to be working (though it can take up to 10 days, they say). However, on Monday, I heard a yell/scream, and called from across the courtyard, ‘Rat?’ to which Neil replied, ‘Yes.’ Attending the scene, I found he had the thing pinned to the spokes of our godson’s bike, which we keep in the laundry room lean-to, and he was using his crutch to keep it in place. (Neil recently had a bout of transient osteoporosis, so he was using his crutch, not his crotch.) We devised a cunning plan. Wearing an oven glove, I lifted the intruder by the tail and dropped it into an old ice cream tub. Holding the lid down but not sealed, I took the thing up to our dustbin station and left it in a paladin with a bag of rubbish on top. The bin men empty these stations at least twice per day and a visit was due. Ratty would have made his escape when the trash was tipped into the back of the truck, if not there, then when it reached the landfill way up the mountain.

And now, with that story told, I can resume work on the next work in progress. Thinking about it, I might have to write in a rat catcher because that was a busy job back in Victorian times, and now I know what it feels like to be one.