What Every Author Should Have on the Shelf

A couple of weeks ago, I was telling you about my author’s bible. Today, I thought I would look at my author’s bookshelf and give you my opinion of what every author should have on their shelf. At least, I’m going to tell you about a few of the reference books I have on some of my shelves, and tell you my go-to resources for when I am writing.


The Basics

For anyone writing in English, the must-have book has to be an English dictionary. You can use an online dictionary, and there are several, but be aware that you may not always find the correct English spelling (they may be in American). For example, if I want to check a definition or existence of a word, I do an online search, but searching for ‘harbour definition’ gives me the result ‘harbor’, the American spelling.

What’s useful about this method is that the search results also include the origin of the word and there’s a section which gives me the word’s use over time.

However, bear in mind that this graph probably relates to the use of the word in print, and words only make it to a dictionary based on their printed use. Also, it may be American print, not necessarily British. This is a useful tool for when I am checking if a word I want to use in dialogue existed at the time that dialogue was spoken. I’ve mentioned before some words I wanted to put into my Clearwater and Larkspur historical mysteries (1884 to 1891) only to discover they were not in common usage back then. I scream when I see a TV series or read a book set before the 1930s and a character says ‘Okay.’ Why? Well, take a look at this more detailed chart of the word’s common use:

There are others, some more surprising, such as ‘paperwork’ (1934). So, the online dictionary is useful for this kind of thing, but if you want a proper definition, head to the real deal, print dictionaries, and the more extended the book, the better.

The same can be said of the thesaurus. There are online resources for looking up synonyms and antonyms, but again, check for American spellings. I use https://www.thesaurus.com/ but even this doesn’t always have older synonyms, which is why I have a Collins thesaurus beside my dictionary. You’ll also notice other useful resources in the photo below, including the Collins Dictionary of Quotations, and a few Oxfords: Guide to the English Language, Dictionary of Rhyming Slang and Dictionary of Idioms. All very useful. The rhyming dictionary is a leftover from when I used to write cabaret songs and musicals, and it’s now very handy for when I am inventing poetic ransom notes or clues in the mysteries. An Unkindness of Ravens gives me common collective nouns which can also be fun to browse. Did you know that a group of writers is a worship of writers? A group of nuns is a superfluity, but my favourite is a drift of fishermen.

By the way, the Samuel Johnson dictionary is fun to browse to find obscure words from the English language and to check older origins. I just opened it at random and found ‘Humicubation – the act of lying on the ground.’ Next time your toddler is throwing a paddy in Sainsbury’s, you can tell those giving you disdainful looks, ‘Ignore it. My dandiprat is merely humicubating in his dander.’ (‘My little fellow is lying on the ground in a temper’).

At the other end of this shelf, I have the complete works of Shakespear because everyone should have one, a Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, and between them, a set of three books by Mark Forsyth. Rather than explain these ‘witty and erudite’ books, as The Times called them, I’ll direct you to his blog where you can learn more: https://blog.inkyfool.com/

Sitting alongside these on the dictionary shelf are copies of old and specific dictionaries, namely one of Kentish dialect (for use in my Saddling series and for Thomas Payne in the Clearwater collection), and Passing English of the Victorian Era, another go-to place for word finding and checking. I find such things from https://www.forgottenbooks.com/en Forgotten Books because I like them in print, but some can also be found online. In my browser’s research bookmarks, for example, I have a link to an English to Cornish dictionary in PDF format, one to a Cockney rhyming slang translator (but always check the date of first usage), and one to an online copy of The Vulgar Tongue, which I am constantly referring to when writing Frank Andino in the Larkspur books. I also have a hardback copy of this beside me as I write, and it’s another great resource for old street slang and cant. (Cant: Language peculiar to a specified group or profession and regarded with disparagement. I.e. “Thieves’ cant.”)

I also have a link to an online video dictionary of British sign language which I use when writing Joe Tanner, and from which I am constantly trying to learn new signs. https://www.signbsl.com/ Check it out and get signing!

Moving on to structure.

On another shelf, I have a collection of screenwriting books. Unsurprisingly, I bought these when I was writing screenplays, but what they contain is of use to novelists. This is because films are all about structure (unless they are art-house or experimental films), and structure is vital to a novel (unless it’s a bad one). Robert McKee’s ‘Story’ is an excellent guide to the structure of stories, and Aronson’s The 21st Century Screenplay is excellent for outlining and giving examples of the various story structures used in films which can also apply to novels. Elsewhere, I also have a copy of the Writer’s Journey by Vogler which is the go-to book for understanding the hero’s journey of classic story telling. This was given to me by Anne Zouroudi, the best-selling Bloomsbury author of The Greek Detective Series, and as she swears by it, so do I.

You will also notice in there, ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King, a good read and useful. Part autobiography and part advice giving, it’s well worth having.

To be a Little More Specific

On a third shelf, I have a collection of reference and research books dedicated to my period, the late Victorian times. The photo below gives you an idea of what I research for the Clearwater and Larkspur novels. The Victorian Country House, Britain’s Stately Homes, Life Below Stairs, and a history of the Garrick Club are general to life at Larkspur and Clearwater House characters. Others relate to Silas, Fecker and the poorer East End renters and characters who appear on the other side of the great divide. East End 1888, Slumming, The Cleveland Street Scandal/Affair and The Good Old Days have all been mined for information.

Then, there are more specific books to dip into, such as Dying for the Gods (Human sacrifice in Iron Age and Roman Europe, used for Keepers of the Past); Personal Reminiscence of Henry Irving by Bram Stoker (used in Bitter Bloodline); Egyptian Hieroglyphs for Complete Beginners (used for Guardians of the Poor); and The Gates of Europe (used to understand more about Andrej’s background in Ukraine).

And then there are the research books I have on my Kindle, but that’s for another day.

Beneath these shelves, I have another that contains maps and pamphlets, small works about specific places and other bits and pieces, all of which have been or will be used in background reading and research.

Above them, though, I have a shelf now nearly full of my own publications, and I’ll show you a picture of it, not to show off, but so you can see that a successful series isn’t just about typing words for eight hours a day. It’s about knowing your subject, exploring the past, getting in the details without flooding the page with unnecessaries, and understanding what it was like for people back then. From using the right words (or not using the wrong ones), to knowing what kind of wing collar a viscount might wear in 1890, from knowing what a butler might earn in 1888 to discovering how a parrot might be poisonous, the answer will be contained in a book somewhere. Or these days, online, but always check your online research, and don’t take the top search result’s words as true; double check, and if in doubt, buy the books, read them, and use them.

The result of all this reading and hard work? This:

And this:

Hope you enjoyed this pry around my office shelves. See you on Wednesday for my Work In Progress,

Have a great weekend,

Jack

Work In Progress 3.03

Speaking in Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On my way!

Guest Post with Ally Lester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warning! Deep Water

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

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

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

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

BUY JMS BOOKS $2.99 : WIDE BUY LINKS TBA

Excerpt

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

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

There was clearly a story there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

About A. L. Lester

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

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

Work In Progress 3.02

Work In Progress 3.02

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

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

The Author’s Bible

Or, in my case, two bibles, and we’re not talking religious texts. We’re talking about notebooks. Today, I thought I’d take you through my author’s bible. In other words, how I keep track of characters, places, descriptions and facts when writing a long and ongoing series. The photos show my two main notebooks, with brief explanations as to what you are looking at.

In the Beginning…

I have a chest in which I keep my original notes. I started this collection about two years BC (that’s Before Clearwater), and the papers are now yellowing, and the writing is fading. I used to make notes about the stories I was writing on pieces of scrap A4 paper, usually the backs of drafts I’d had printed, and among them is a list of most commonly mistyped words. I use that to check the full manuscript when I reach the end of a draft; words like form and from, for example. But these notes are not my author’s bible, that is a leather-bound, blank page notebook Neil bought me for Christmas 2018, and just after I’d written ‘Curious Moonlight’, I decided to start keeping my story thoughts in it. The first few pages concern a Gormenghast type story I was thinking of writing, and the only thing not now crossed out is a list of names: Anthem, the choirmaster, Pook, a serving boy, Tripp, a footman, and Archie with no job, but whose name means ‘genuine and bold.’

The beginning. As you can see, the Clearwater Series started in January 2019, and the first book was originally titled Deviant Lamplight, then Deviant Devotion and finally, Deviant Desire because the other two ideas were, frankly, terrible.

And therein lies the beginning of the Clearwater Mysteries. ‘A brethren of seven…’ was among my first notes, and I carried that idea over to the Clearwater crew: Archer, Silas, Fecker, James, Thomas… Well, a brethren of five that later becomes seven with Jasper and Billy, and then eight with Mrs Norwood, and so on until I now have a cast of thousands.

So, with 11 Clearwater books and, now, four Larkspur novels, how do I keep track of the details, and why?

Why is Easy

If you read a book and the character has blue eyes in chapter one, but brown eyes in chapter ten… If Larkspur Hall was in Bodmin one moment, and near Bodmin the next, or if Silas’ mother came from Dublin in one book and somewhere else in another… You see where I am going with this? It’s easy, as an author, to think I’ll remember that, and not write things down. Later, say two or three full novels later, you think, Ah yes, I remember I had to remember that, but what was it…? And then, you spend half a day searching your copy of the novel you thought the fact was in, only not to find it, and end up rewriting your section to avoid having to mention the important fact.

Keeping concise but accurate notes about the world you are inventing is safer all-round, even though you think, It’s my world, I won’t forget that.

You will.

How is Another Matter

Every author has their own way of keeping a record, notes, the author’s bible, as it’s commonly known. Some hire people to do it for them, to read the entire series and make notes on everything. Some people do this because they are fans, others, to earn money. I do it as I go, but I don’t do it in any structured way, by which I mean, my bible doesn’t have an index. I do, though, know roughly where to find things, and failing that, I flick through the pages.

Once I knew Deviant Desire was going to lead to a second book, I decided to use my new leather notebook to keep my facts, and started with Archer.

Archer’s notes updated over time.

These two pages contain the basics about my main character. His full name, titles, date of birth and other unchangeable facts like where and when he went to school and his physical description. Over the page, we have a double-page spread about Silas, including the date he and Archer met, and how old he is. Then comes Andrej (Fecker), Thomas, ‘East End and other characters’, minor characters not seen, other locations, a glossary, the list of murders, places and dates (from Deviant Desire), and a page of random notes.

After a blank page comes the name Sam Wright… Crossed out and replaced by Jim… Crossed out and finally replaced by James Joseph Wright, messenger, 25 years old (born Jan 10th 1863), started at post office aged 14, not 100% attractive (sorry, Jimmy), Fecker’s nickname for him Tato (daddy), and ‘James writes with a pen (book 9).’

Moving through the book, I find lists of dates as to when things happened, who works at the house next door, a page listing servants’ wages in 1888, and a rough plan of the ground floor of Clearwater House.

Clearwater House. My first attempt at a layout to help me picture how to get from one room to another, to improve consistency.

As you might have gathered by now, I keep the notes according to the book I am writing at the time. I stop now and then, usually after completing a book, to add to the previous pages and make other notes and lists about the world, not about the stories; that’s a separate matter. For the Clearwater series, I kept story notes in a separate notebook, jotting down ideas and points to answer, clues to solve and how, and story details, then later, I put the pertinent ones in the bible. If I filled the pages of the leather book with story notes, there would be so many things crossed out, it would make the book messy and even harder to read than it is.

Moving on, we next find a page outlining the characters’ skills, because, at that time, I was comparing them to superheroes – not in the stories, but in my head. So Archer was Iron Man and skilled in combat, money, and status. James (Captain America), communications, fitness, strength. Fecker (Thor), strength, loyalty, transport. Thomas (J.A.R.V.I.S.), Logic, cool head, planning… And so on.

For ‘Twisted Tracks’, I drew a map of the railway route I’d invented. Book three’s notes include a page of villains, and who was dead by then, and book four outlines who was on the board of the Clearwater Foundation. Also in the Fallen Splendour section are notes such as ‘Silas wears Curzon cologne’, and ‘Fanny… crossed out, Sarah… crossed out… Mrs Norwood, 40s, James’ old schoolteacher.’

Book five is set at Larkspur Hall, and as that was the first time we’d been there in detail, there’s a list of servants, places on the estate, ‘A patchwork of a property,’ ‘Ruined church from Dissolution’, and ‘abbey given in 1538,’ which is a worry as I am sure I’ve said it was another date in another book.

You see, even though you keep notes, you don’t always use them. I know I once messed up on the address of Clearwater House saying, in one book, it was in Bucks Avenue and then in another that it was in Bucks Row. (Bucks Row was a site of a Jack the Ripper murder.) I was able to go back and change that later, but I am sure there are other minor inconsistencies caused by ‘I remember that, no need to look it up.’

Occasionally, I paste things into the bible, such as this note, written on the back of receipt.

Romanian. Gabriel’s translation and some of my notes about pronunciation.

I was sitting at our local café one day and was joined by a Romanian friend. That was handy because I was writing ‘Bitter Bloodline’, which features a Romanian villain, and although I’d used Google translate, I wanted to be sure the most important sentence in the book was correct. Gabriel, my Romanian mate, wrote it down for me, and then I told him we were talking about Transylvania in 1889. He rewrote it, because the language would have been slightly different, and that’s what that note is all about.

What Else Should Be in the Bible?

I don’t want to bore you with details of every page of my book, but apart from those things mentioned above, it also contains pages titled:

Height, Hair & Build (brief character references)

Skills (again, but with more characters)

Archers’ family tree by three generations

Notes about Larkspur Hall

A calendar of character’s birthdays (Harvey, a minor character, June 2nd, Jasper Blackwood, 1st August, Silas, 21st October, etc.) These minor facts are useful to know and use because they add depth to stories, even if it’s only a mention.

A calendar of years of birth. Archer 1859, Thomas 1861, Fecker, probably 1865 but no-one really knows.

A rough map of the area around Clearwater House

Extended family tree for The Clearwater Inheritance

Who’s Who at Larkspur Hall, March 1890

The guest list for Archer’s 31st birthday party

Ages. Character’s ages through the years and some other major events. This makes it so much easier to remember how old people are. If you look closely, you’ll see that Fecker started renting in 1883 when he was 16, though he may have been older, and James started at the post office (PO) in 1877. You never know when such trivia will come in useful.

And so on and so on until we hit a page on which I have (badly) drawn three standing stones and the title The Larkspur Mysteries, June 2021, and underlined it in red as if it were school homework.

Two Bibles

I’m now a two-bible household. I keep the leather notebook going, and still add to previous pages, while using up more to give the same basic details of the new characters from the Larkspur Mysteries. However, when I started this second series, I decided to use a large, lined book that a friend had made for me. The cover is decorated with the titles of the books from the Clearwater Mysteries, but I am using the book as a bible/notebook for the Larkspur Series.

Big book.
Notes on the viscountcy of Larkspur from 1541 to the present day (1891), for ‘Seeing Through Shadows.’

That’s one example of how I am creating the Larkspur bible alongside the Clearwater bible. I’m not repeating facts from the first to the second, but I am adding facts from the second to relevant places in the first. I’m also using it to outline the stories, track the timeline, create character arcs, and make story notes. The Clearwater bible remains my go-to place for the basics, but now, using the larger Larkspur book, I can keep all my story notes in one, lovely to write on, set of pages and not the old trunk.

Revelations

I hope you found the above interesting. If I have a final point to make about why authors should keep a bible, it’s this:

When you create a fictional world, you are the Creator. You are omnipotent and expected to know all, see all, and care for all you have created. Unless you really are the Creator, it’s unlikely you will store every fabulous fact in your memory, so if in doubt, write it down.

Notebooks yet to be used, except for the green one which I used when writing the Saddling series as James Collins.

As for me, I have plenty more notebooks waiting to be filled…

Work In Progress 3.01

Speaking in Silence Well, I have the title of Larkspur five! I also have an outline, I know where I am ending up (kind of), and I know where I am starting.

I also have an idea of where the characters are going to take me once they start on the adventure, and I have begun the opening chapters to see how they work out. I’m also doing my background reading, and that’s going to take me another week or so. After that, I should be able to forge ahead and get the story down in the first draft.

But what I can I tell you about it as, together, we embark on the next adventure?

This is where I have to be careful as I don’t want to give away anything that happens in the previous book, in case you haven’t read it yet. I can tell you, though, that it will involve characters you met in ‘Seeing Through Shadows’, there will be an ongoing love story, a mystery (of course), and we won’t stay in Cornwall the whole time. In fact, the story starts with a prologue set in Greychurch (Whitechapel), in January 1891, and then jumps forward to March of that year. I’m currently reading newspapers of the time, and I am reading about the great blizzard that swept the south of England between 9th and 13th of March, making roads and railways impassable, wrecking a number of ships, and killing at least 200 people.

Train derailed near Camborne, Cornwall
https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Great-Blizzard-1891/

My story begins just after that, and it’s going to involve at least one Clearwater detective in the mentoring role, as a small group of academy friends seek justice for one of their number. Other old favourites I hope to use in ‘Speaking in Silence’ are Creswell, my barmy barrister, and Dr Markland, my even madder medical man. They will be cameos, because that’s what those characters are good at, while the main leads will be two Larkspur Academy men. The fun part, for me, is going to be how to convey the backstory of a character who doesn’t speak. (He can, but for some reason, he chooses not to, and understanding why, is one of the mysteries to be solved.) I have an idea for how this character will tell us about his past, and that’s one of the many ideas I am jotting in my notebook. For now, it’s back to the newspapers of the time, working out logistics, setting the timeline and then, beginning on the book proper in a couple of weeks.

Stay with me and follow the creative journey through my Wednesday WIP, and remember to check in on Saturdays for a new, more in-depth blog post or MM romance news, interviews and other things, and I’ll see you there. Meanwhile, you can catch up with the Larkspur Mysteries here.

Guest Post from M. A. Church

Today’s blog is going to take us far away from Larkspur Hall and my Victorian mystery writing. Please let me introduce M.A. Church who spends most of her author life amongst aliens on far away planets. Her current romance series are extremely popular and are described as “Awesome SciFi”. She is here to tell us a little more about how the series began and to share a couple of excerpts to tempt you into trying something new. Welcome!


Hey y’all! I’m M.A. Church. I’ve been doing this writing stuff now since 2010. I write mostly paranormal and scifi. I guess the books I’m best known for are The Harvest series, which qualified me for SFWA. This series of books is mpreg, but the actual birthing happens in book two, The Harvest: Journey’s End.

So, do aliens interest you?

What about spaceships?

How about a breeding program?

The Harvest: Taken is the first book in the Tah’Narian universe. It covers Dale’s journey through one of the scariest times in human history. It’s a story of forgiveness, righting wrongs, learning to trust, and finally, falling in love. Sounds interesting? Then I hope you’ll join Dale and the gang on a journey which will lead to the love of a lifetime.

The spin-off series, The Next Generation, follows the young from The Harvest series. I’m working on the last book in that series now. It’s finally Laken’s turn to find the love of his life.

These books will take you on a nonstop adventure through several worlds. Four couples are bound together by the cosmos, and each has a different path they must tread.

This is where it all began:

My name is Dale Michaels. A simple name, right? Nothing very memorable about it, that’s for sure. Or about me, either. I’m just a regular guy with average looks, a loving family who didn’t care I was gay, and good friends.

Just a guy.

Little did I know just how special I was to one Tah’Narian spaceship captain named Keyno Shou, or how he would change my life. *shakes head* Don’t think he swept me off my feet. He didn’t. What he did do was harvested under the agreed age limit, take me from my family, mutate my DNA so I could have kids, tell me I have a deadly disease, claim me as his mate, and destroy the life I knew.

I was not happy, to say the least. Pissed didn’t even cover what I felt. But what’s a guy to do on a spaceship orbiting Earth surrounded by a bunch of aliens with technology far more advanced than ours?

While I was still trying to figure out how to handle the attraction I had for Keyno, a bunch of men who were harvested revolted and tried to take over Keyno’s ship… and I got to see how deeply Keyno cared for me. I also met the person who staged the rebellion, the infamous gang leader, Colt 45.

This is the beginning of my story; a story that’s action-packed, emotionally tough, and truly is the love of a lifetime.

~Michael

The Harvest: Taken

Blurb

We are not alone.

In the year 2050 mankind’s never-ending quest for proof life exists in the universe is answered—in the form of massive space ships that appear without warning above the capitals of all major nations. The name of their planet is Tah’Nar—and is dying. The United States sets up a lottery system, and each young man between the ages of twenty-three and twenty-eight is assigned a number.

Once a year, for the next five years, numbers will be drawn and a new set of one thousand males will be collected. The media coined the expression ‘The Harvest’ for when the Tah’Narian’s collect these young men.

Captain Keyno Landium Shou is a Tah’Narian starship captain who has been granted the right to take a mate, any mate, he wants during the last harvest on Earth. Dale was seventeen when the aliens first appeared. His parents assumed he’d be safe since the final collection would be done before he turned twenty-three. He didn’t fall within the guidelines established, so they took for granted he had nothing to fear.

They were wrong.

Buy link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00O4E6Y7Q

Excerpt from The Harvest: Taken

It was in the year 2050 when humanity found out that it was, indeed, not alone in the universe.

They appeared without warning above the capitals of all major nations. The huge, menacing, and completely unresponsive space ships dominated the skies, sending the media into a complete tailspin. The governments of our world argued back and forth on what to do. But, in the end, they did nothing.

First contact came within hours of the sightings. The question of what these aliens wanted prompted emergency closed-door meetings by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Union of South American Nations, the African Union, the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, and NATO. The media speculated endlessly. The talks with the aliens lasted for two days, while the world waited and watched. Early on the morning of the third day, news agencies released the details.

The name of their planet was Tah’Nar—and it was dying. Originally, the Tah’Narians were an intersexed warrior race. Chemical warfare had essentially rendered them sterile. Many scientists, from all over the world, eagerly volunteered their assistance to aid the alien race.

After about a week of this, a press release from our government stated that the two strands of DNA were too fragile to be frozen and transported through space. The release claimed that the nucleobases—the four molecules that form the genetic building blocks of DNA—would be damaged and might even disintegrate once the alien starships jumped to star drive, the method used to travel through time and space so quickly. Simply put, it was easier to protect people than extracted DNA.

Each government reached agreements—and boy, didn’t that take a while—that these men would return to Earth once the program was completed. Here in the United States a lottery system was set up. Our government assigned a number to young men between the ages of twenty-three and twenty-eight. Then once a year, for the next five years, the lotto took place.

The benefits to our own world hovered foremost in the mind of every government official present at the meeting. The Tah’Narians required DNA for their harvesting program. Participating males were required to transport to their world since Earthlings couldn’t duplicate their technology. This, of course, triggered all sorts of questions. Why couldn’t this technically advanced race build what they needed to extract the DNA? The story had more holes in it than Swiss cheese.

Those unfortunate men were collected and escorted to holding centers where a battery of medical and psychological tests was run on the subjects. Once they passed the tests, transportation to waiting spaceships occurred. Other industrialized nations followed our example and set up their own lottery systems. Word soon leaked that our government targeted gay men, but officials vehemently denied the rumors.

The media coined the expression ‘The Harvest’ for the times when the Tah’Narians would return to collect these young men.

Added bonus! Excerpt from the last book in The Next Gen series, Bound by War (coming soon):

THE SCENT of food woke Torin. His mouth watered, and his stomach growled.

Opening his eyes, he surveyed the room. Curtains now enclosed the medibed giving him some privacy. Machines beeped, reading his vitals. Nevertheless, none of that indicated how much time had passed. His muscles warmed as blood flow increased, and his stomach rumbled again, more loudly this time.

He heard a low chime of bells and the scent of the ocean washed over him.

“Well, I’d say you’re hungry. I can hear that all the way over here. Just a moment, and I’ll be right there.”

So the male hadn’t broken his word. Ridiculous how reassuring that was. Laken’s voice soothed him, and the sweet melody from the bells Laken wore in his hair had infiltrated Torin’s sleep.

Blishue didn’t depend on anyone, much less let their guard down, and that included around his own kind. But he’d slept soundly with a stranger next to him. That was troublesome. As were the annoying IVs. That he hadn’t ripped out them out was its own minor miracle. Being drugged left him vulnerable.

How many hits to the head had he taken?

He stretched, his joints popping. His mind was heavy and sluggish, but there was no pain. He eyed the IV. This was ludicrous. He couldn’t think straight. Maybe he should yank it out and—

“Ah, yeah, I wouldn’t do that if I was you.” Laken nudged the curtain open and ducked inside.

The sight of Laken hit Torin like a space shuttle. How had he not noticed the ice-blue gemstones that sparkled in the overhead lights? They winked from his ears, wrists, ankles, and nipples. The male had his nipples pierced.

His.

Nipples.

Pierced.

Here’s my deets:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/M.A.-Church/e/B007A8JA4C

Newsletter: https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/y5n3y2

M.A. Church’s Author Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/421945898329522

Blog: http://machurch00.blogspot.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/nomoretears00

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/machurch00

Tik Tok: https://www.tiktok.com/@machurch00?lang=en

The Harvest FB fan page: https://www.facebook.com/theharvest00

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/nomoretears00

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/5141393.M_A_Church

Email: nomoretears00@hotmail.com

If you join my newsletter, you get the bonus short story from the The Harvest world–Chad’s story! https://storyoriginapp.com/giveaways/d6c37b98-9af1-11eb-826f-f774e9edc2fc

Work In Progress 2.14

Seeing Through Shadows – Release

I’m pleased to tell you that the Larkspur Mysteries book four, Seeing Through Shadows, is now uploaded on Amazon. It should be available for you in Kindle, KU and in paperback in the next couple of days. (edit, it is now live!)

As you can see from the title of this brief post, this is week 14 in this book’s life. (The 2 refers to the fact this is my second book since starting the WIP blog, the 14 refers to the week.) Some books, they say, write themselves, and Seeing Through Shadows was one of them. I started with an idea, made some notes and did some research, as I always do, and drew a simple outline. After that, the characters took over, I kept them in line with the structure I wanted, and I was strict with myself when first-drafting, which meant less time had to be taken on the following drafts and edits. I think I’m finally getting this process down now, and once an idea has formed, it’s taking me less time to write a novel.

What’s interesting about ‘Shadows’ is that the idea came about back in 2018, before I’d even thought about the Clearwater Mysteries, let alone the Larkspur mysteries. I’d just finished writing ‘Curious Moonlight’, a kind of ghost story and first love mashup, and considered writing a sequel.

Curious Moonlight is about two guys meeting, and having their relationship hampered by a troubled and troublesome ghost called Billy. I thought it might be fun to have the three team up as spectral investigators, with Billy being ever present and always naughty. I invented a location (Blackwood Abbey), and a history of a ghostly sighting, drew a plan of the estate and mapped out the story, but never sat down to write it.

In a way, I am glad I didn’t, because Blackwood Abbey eventually became Larkspur Hall, and what I was doing back then was only planting the seed of an idea. When you read Shadows and learn the history of the Larkspur ghost, it is actually the same history of that created for the Curious Moonlight sequel that never was. The twist at the end of Shadows was to be the explanation for the Curious ghost (kind of), and the Larkspur estate is more of less what I’d made up for Curious. Confused? Never mind, it’ll become clear when you read Seeing Through Shadows.

Meanwhile, you can find Curious Moonlight here.

“He’s back. He’s angry, and I am fleeing for my life.”

Escaping bad choices, Luke Grey arrives in the Cornish fishing village of Madenly determined never to fall in love with a straight man again. But then he meets Peran Box.

Peran’s passion for investigating historical mysteries is his only escape from a loveless relationship. But then he meets Luke.

Attracted to each other’s differences, the two embark on an intense friendship which sparks hope for Luke and ignites Peran’s gay-curious feelings.

But then they meet Billy, dead for three-hundred years and determined to keep them apart until the mystery of his murder is solved.

An Author’s Easter in Greece

It is Easter this weekend here in Greece, and as I write, Symi is about to be rocked by festivities.

I first experienced Greek Easter in 2003, and I’d never seen or heard anything like it. At that time, we were living in a house at the top of our village, only a few yards away from one of the larger parish churches. We were so close, we could hear the mechanism of the bells before they chimed, and when they did ring, would often have to turn the television off, because there was no point in trying to watch anything; all you could hear were bells. That was one thing, and we got used to it and enjoyed hearing the bells on the hour and the half, at weddings and baptisms, and, later, at Easter.

But Easter in Greece is not only about bells. There are various stages of Lent, the 40 days before Easter. Even before then, the traditions start with a Monday where the last of the cheese is eaten, a Thursday when the last of the meat is consumed, and a carnival, or a Mardi Gras, as they have in other countries around the world. If you follow the Greek Orthodox way of life, you follow a strict diet throughout Lent, which becomes stricter during ‘Great Week’, the seven days before Easter Sunday. On ‘Big Friday’ (Good Friday) for example, you don’t use cutlery, you don’t work, and the island falls eerily quiet – except for the day-tripper tourists. It was during my first Easter here that I experienced the literal silence of the lambs. There were many not far from our semi-rural house, bleating away during the lead up to Good Friday, and then on Good Friday… Silence.

In Spring the sheep are tethered on wasteland to munch their way through the fresh greenery

Lamb is the main staple of the Easter Sunday feast. Say no more.

Today, Easter Saturday, is another quiet day that leads to a very noisy night. Yesterday, the effigies of Christ were removed from the crucifixes in the church and laid on decorated biers. Villagers parade this, bring it into the churches which are decked in black and indigo, and a very serious and funereal service takes place.

The services continue through Saturday, leading to what we might call midnight mass on Saturday night. Then, at midnight, all the lights in the churches are turned off, and the priest appears with the sacred flame. This has come from Jerusalem to Athens by special plane and is used to light other candles and lanterns, which are then passed down to the towns, cities and islands. At midnight, the priest uses the flame to light the candles worshipers have brought, and people share their flame with their neighbours, so the light spreads further.

The Priest sharing the holy flame

This happens at the moment of the resurrection, midnight, and with candles lit, everyone returns home to mark their doorway lintels with X and A, standing for Xristos Anestsi. Χριστός Ανέστη. Christ is risen.

Easter Sunday is a time for feasting, relighting the barbeque, visiting family, and celebrating the new beginnings, and on Easter Monday, there is a national holiday. The ceremonies continue with the burning of Judas (an effigy, often wearing the mask of the global villain of the day, this year, I imagine, it will be Putin), a bonfire and fireworks.

This will be our table for Easter Sunday lunch, we are invited to The Anchor House with its fabulous views

And while all this is going on, there is the noise. Children and many adults delight in warding off evil spirits by setting off bangers (firecrackers), some much louder than others. Teenagers in particular love to find places where the sharp bangs echo most and make the loudest noise, and it takes some getting used to. Then, on Good Friday night and Easter Saturday night, in particular, the menfolk are up on the hillside with massive barrels stuffed with dynamite which they ignite. It’s no exaggeration to say the island rocks. Depending on where you are, you might find debris falling on your head, you can see flares shooting up and dropping onto rooves, lighting the sky red, and some people set off fireworks too. For as long as I have lived here (20 years), I’ve never heard of a fire or serious accident, which is something of an Easter miracle.

I will try and upload a video of the proceedings tonight and share on my facebook page.

That’s where I am right now; in the middle of the Greek Easter weekend. Down here in the South-East Aegean, Symi is starting to wake up after a long, wet and cold winter — we had snow for the first time in many years — and tourists are beginning to return.

Nicknamed the ‘Judas Plant’, this lily is always in bloom at easter time, it looks beautiful but exudes the smell of dead goat

Harbour and village businesses are opening, though the beaches and water taxis aren’t up and running yet, and we have our first visitor too. My mother is staying for a month, which is fun. Luckily, she understands that I have ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ about to come out next week, and I am currently working through the final proof, organising the cover, setting up publication on Amazon and doing those 101 things that need to be done ahead of the release date. That, by the way, should be during next week.

You don’t have long to wait to meet our new characters, Chester Cadman, Henry Hope and Edward Hyde. You’ll find out who falls in love with whom, what eccentricities Fleet is getting up to, and some of the history behind Larkspur Hall. There’s a ghostly mystery to solve, and a few exciting things happen in a bath, a bed and a laboratory…

Seeing Through Shadows
Coming Soon!

I will say no more, except. Kalo Paska – Happy Easter – and remind you to look out for Wednesday’s work in progress blog where I’ll tell you more about ‘Seeing Through Shadows’, the Larkspur Mysteries, book four.

Work In Progress 2.13

The Last Leg

That’s not the name of the book, of course. ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ is back from proofing, which now sets me on the last leg of publication. For me, this includes:

  • A final read to agree the proofs and make any last-minute changes.
  • Send the proofed blurb to the cover designer and ask for the full, print cover.
  • Set the book up on KDP to get the IBAN, and add it to the front matter.
  • Contact the layout team, and put them on alert.

When I have reread the book, I then:

  • Send it to be set out, and wait for the files to come back.
  • Check them (though I never really need to), and address any changes.
  • Upload the cover and blurb to KDP, and set the keywords.
  • When the internal files are ready, upload them.
  • Set the price, and hit ‘publish’ on both Kindle and print.

Usually, within two days, the book is then live.

So, today, I am still at the final read stage, and that will take me a few days, but you can expect ‘Seeing Through Shadows’, book four in the Larkspur Mysteries series, to be available in the next two weeks. And then, on to the next one, ‘Speaking In Silence.’

Seeing Through Shadows