What’s On Your First Page?

The importance of the first few lines

In showbiz, they say, ‘It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.’ When writing a novel, I say, it’s how you start and finish.

While standing in the bookshop or browsing through Amazon, many people will pick up a book and look at the cover first. If the cover and title grab them, they will then read the back blurb. If that intrigues them, they will read the first line, and if that appeals, they may read the first page. After your cover, title and blurb, your first page is the most important part of your book, so today’s blog is about what a first page should do. You can expand that to the first couple of pages or the first chapter, but really, what the first page should do is grab the reader and drag them into the story.

Opening Lines

Before we get into an examination of what’s on your first page, I wanted to have a look at some opening sentences, just to make a point:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)


There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

And the point is, it’s not only the first chapter or page which should engage, the very first line should too. When I wrote the first line of The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge, I wanted to sum up the entire story, set the background and inspire the reader to look forward. This is what I came up with:

John Hamilton was refusing a job at Everest base camp when he caught sight of the youth who would change his life.

Barrenmoor Ridge is about a mountaineer coming to terms with the death of his lover while rescuing a younger man from a mountain and falling back in love. The first page opens halfway through a scene, as all good scenes should, they say. Having just written that, I thought I’d examine some of my other opening lines to see whether I followed my own advice.

Andrej waited until the darkest hour before he untied his wrists with his teeth, and freed his feet from the knots.

[Banyak & Fecks]


Jasper Blackwood’s life changed beyond recognition on the morning of 27th July 1889.

[Home from Nowhere]


Liam Dent was wondering if the time was right to come out to his best friend when the man who would nearly kill them stepped on his foot.

[The Students of Barrenmoor Ridge.]

You can see, there’s something of a formula, but not always. The opening for ‘Other People’s Dreams’, my first novel, is an advertisement:

Do you want to live out my dream?

One yacht, a thousand islands and all the time in the world.

36-year-old guy with the money and the fantasy seeks four fit, young, gay lads to crew his boat in the Greek islands. (No experience necessary)

You must be trustworthy, attractive, loyal, adventurous, uninhibited and free from June through to September with no ties.

All expenses and living allowance paid in return.

Certain strings attached.

Write with photo to Jake, Box No. 2006

The first sentence in your novel is as important as all the others, but is usually the first one someone will read before deciding whether to buy a book. Grab ’em from the start and hold ’em until the end. But before they even reach the end of chapter one, they need to get past the first page…

Meanwhile, on the First Page

One Stop For Writers (OSFW) released a guide, ‘How to Craft a Winning First Page’ (see the image), and I am using that as a guide while I examine the openings of two of my novels. The details of each section are on the image, but below, I’m comparing what OSFA suggests against what I did. Bear in mind, I hadn’t read this advice or any like it when I wrote the two novels I’m going to look at, The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge (2018), and Deviant Desire (2019).

The notes on the image expand the OSFW advice, but in summary, it suggests five things a first page should do:

  1. Start in the right spot – begin just before a major event in the main character’s life
  2. Show – basically, don’t start with too much backstory (plenty of time for that later)
  3. Tighten up – don’t be wordy, don’t drag it out (plenty of time for that later too)
  4. Raise a question – create intrigue
  5. Build empathy – make the reader like the MC

How do my two examples compare?

The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge

The Mentor of Barrenmoor Ridge

Here’s the opening line:

John Hamilton was refusing a job at Everest base camp when he caught sight of the youth who would change his life.

Start in the right spot. Catching sight of the impact character (Gary) is the catalyst for the love story that follows. We also enter the story halfway through a discussion. That’s a common trick used by Shakespeare among many others. Other good ways to open are on a journey in progress, with an argument, with a bang, or right in the middle of some action. When I wrote Banyak & Fecks, I originally started with Andrej (Fecks) standing over the ruins of his burnt-out home and remembering his childhood. That section is still in the first chapter, but it was too slow for an opening. Now we start with him escaping from a camp, stealing back his knife, and running from certain death. A little more grabbing than a character feeling sorry for himself.

But I digress…

Show. I.e., trimming down the backstory. My Barrenmoor Ridge first page contains lines such as, ‘You were talking about another base camp season,’ he said, showing us that John has worked at Everest base camp before, he’s got something to do with mountaineering, and a discussion has happened before we arrived. Showing, not telling, is something that confuses many aspiring authors, and it can be a hard one to get your head around. I tell plot and action all the time, because sometimes you have to, but I always aim to show things like emotion and feeling. Rather than saying ‘he felt sad’, or ‘John was angry,’ show John crying or kicking over a chair and shouting. The reader will imagine more and thus, be drawn further into the story and character. In Barrenmoor Ridge, John is distracted and not concentrating, and he’s shaking because of something or someone he’s just seen.

Tighten up. There are two paragraphs on my first page that tell us where we are, what’s going on, and give us some atmosphere. We are in the climbers’ café in Inglestone, where cigarette smoke hung in the clammy air mixed with the blue fog of over-fried food. That’s enough to set the scene. We don’t need too many other details of the café beyond the tablecloths and plastic bottles of sauce.

Raise a question. Hopefully, the opening line, John’s trembling hand and a couple of other things raise questions. Who did he just see? Why is he trembling? Why is he refusing a job? How will his life change?

Build empathy. In the opening scene/page, John is doing what most of us have done: meeting with someone in a café and having breakfast. It’s what in screenwriting terms they call ‘the normal world.’ However, the second character tells him, ‘Not just any season,’ she said. ‘Possibly your last. You’re not getting any younger.’ So, we now know he’s getting on a bit, it’s a special opportunity, and he’s done it before. Over the page, we learn that John is getting over the death of his lover, so hopefully, that builds more empathy.

Having just reread that opening, I know I could have done better for a variety of reasons, but, in my defence, it was only my second novel as Jackson, and I was still building my style. A year later, I wrote what was to be a standalone novel based around the Jack the Ripper murders (although in an area of London called ‘Greychurch’ where the Ripper was killing rent boys). Deviant Desire then became the first in an ongoing series of Victorian mysteries, but that wasn’t my original intention. Had it been, I probably would have begun the story in exactly the same way.

Deviant Desire

Opens with:

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

Can you see the similarities between that and Barrenmoor? Yeah, well, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Start in the right spot. That opening line tells us that the catalyst is on its way; Silas’ life is about to change because of what someone else is doing off stage. The first paragraph goes on to say that even if Silas knew what was to become of him, he wouldn’t have been bothered, because Silas wasn’t the kind of youth to shy from a challenge, not even one that might threaten his life. (Ooh, something dangerous is coming…)

Show. This is about cutting out too much backstory, remember? Well, there isn’t any on the first page, but there is plenty in later chapters. Although this opening is ‘wordy’ in that it is descriptive, that is to set the atmosphere of an October night in London’s East End in 1888. You can’t write about the Ripper and not have atmosphere. Thus, I get a bit Dickensian while making the reader want to know more about Silas’ past:

In these times, hunger was a keener motivator than sense. It drove need, need drove experience, and in the four years since he had turned his first trick, experience had prepared him for the dangers of life.”

There is some backstory there, four years since he had turned his first trick, but I didn’t really go into detail about those four years until nine books later when I wrote the prequel, Banyak & Fecks, and the story in which those four years come back to haunt Silas, Negative Exposure.

Tighten up. I refer you to the section above about atmosphere. However, the story starts with a bold statement that tells us something major is about to happen to this man who is searching through rubbish leftover at a market hoping to find food. He’s hungry, cold, and he ‘turns tricks.’ We also learn a bit about his character while reading what I hope is suitable and descriptive prose.

Raise a question. As with Barrenmoor, the questions arise from the opening sentence. Who is Silas Hawkins? Why is he searching for coins? Who is the man four miles distant? Why should he change someone’s life? Is the ‘ten years older’ relevant? Will we get an older/younger romance? Later on the page, we learn he’s been turning tricks and we might wonder why, how, and will we get to know more about that?

Build empathy. If you don’t feel sorry for a gamin (street urchin) rooting through trash so he can live, shivering, prostituting himself even during the time of the Ripper and generally not having a pleasant life, then you need to work on your empathy skills. Joking aside, it’s the writer’s job to make the reader feel empathy. Hence, phrases on this page such as Every night on the grimy, gaslit streets was dangerous, and every unlit customer a potential killer, but the threat of starvation gnawed harder than the fear of violence.

A Few Last Words About the First Words

There is a practise in the film script writing world to do with how you introduce a character and how you say goodbye to them. It’s a case of first impressions count, but so do last ones, and the same applies to novel writing. I’m not necessarily talking about the main character here; the rule applies to all characters and to the novel itself. How you meet an entire story is as important as how you meet the MC and others, but so is how you leave it.

Take from the attached advice from One Stop For Writers what you will, but I am going to end with an ending.

In Deviant Desire, we meet Silas on that grimy street, and we leave him 300 pages and one adventure later somewhere entirely different. As for the story, it starts thus:

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

By the time I got to the end, I decided it was to be an ongoing series, thus, it ends with a different character whose name I have omitted so as not to spoil the story for you.

Revenge was not something [he] thought he would ever contemplate, but he found the idea of it suited him and, as he ordered an ale, he turned his mind to a variety of ways it might be exacted.

Continued in part two, Twisted Tracks

Remember, it’s about how you start and how you finish. It’s about how you introduce your reader to your story, how they leave the story and how the story leaves them. The mark of good storytelling comes when a reader finishes a book wanting to know what happens next to the people in it. This means they have connected with the characters and their world and don’t want the journey to end. The mark of a good first page is to do the same in reverse: to make your reader want to take the journey in the first place.

You can join me on my writer’s journey by tuning into my regular Wednesday work in progress blog. Currently, we’re journeying through Speaking In Silence, the Larkspur Mysteries book five.

Work In Progress 3.05

Speaking In Silence

We are now well on the way to Devizes in Wiltshire. In fact, we will be there at any moment. I am comparing the journey of Speaking In Silence to a train ride from London to Bodmin and looking at my old map of the GWR lines, I’d say Devizes was about a third of the way there or 35,000 words in first draft terms. When we reach Bodmin (estimated time of arrival, 100,000 words), we will have to make the return journey via the second and following drafts, but that’s for much later.

Devizes is also appropriate because that is where my villain lives or lived in real life. At least, he was a member of parliament for the area back in 1891 when the story is set. When I say ‘in real life’, I am basing my character on a newspaper article and on a character from it, but because of what he does in the story, I must point out that the real man didn’t do this in real life. He might have done what he was accused of in the newspapers of the time, but the case was never tried, so who can say?

Research this week has seen me looking up chemical reactions, reading first-hand accounts of London’s East End in the 19th century, and the etiquette of a country house Friday-to-Monday, what we now call a weekend. The word ‘weekend’ only came into use just before 1920, so it’s another of those words I can’t use, like ‘okay’, ‘teenager’ or, to a certain extent, ‘adolescent.’ ‘Homosexual’ is another one I shouldn’t use (common usage after 1900, only specialised medical use a few years before), and when my books are filled with homosexual adolescents recounting their okay teenage years at the weekend… Well, I revert to the thesaurus on a regular basis. Meanwhile, Jenine has been researching letters patent and advancement of titles, the process of lobbying for someone to receive an earldom and how that happens. Poor thing.

It’s been a busy journey so far, and we nearly had a derailment around Newbury when I found myself stuck. I had planned an ending, but as the characters started telling me their story, I realised the ending was wrong. I had to think up another direction, and we almost jumped the tracks. Now, though, we’re back on them, and the destination is the same, only with a slight detour. As usual, I can’t tell you too much, but I can say that what the near derailment has done, is force me to write characters as knowing what is going on in the story while not being able to tell the reader. You see, in this book, it’s all about what’s not being said that’s important, and yet an awful lot is said. Hence, Speaking In Silence.

The journey continues…

Character Interview with Tadhg Byrne

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Tadhg Byrne, the main character from Beck Grey’s latest release, Embrace Me. Just like Joe Tanner, my MC from The Larkspur Mysteries, Tadhg is deaf. I am hoping that he will share how he feels about his deafness and how this language barrier may affect his relationships.

Before I put Tadhg in the spotlight I asked Beck for a little background info…


We first meet Tadhg Byrne on the day he leaves his abusive ex. He’s living and working in Los Angeles, where he went to college and studied architecture. He made a name for himself in the field and outwardly everything looked wonderful, but his ex was controlling and tried to cut him off from family and friends. Tadhg finally has the courage to leave and go back home to his family in Seattle.

The story really picks up when Tadhg starts his new job at an architectural firm in Seattle. We meet him again a few months after he’s back in Seattle, on his first day of work at his new job. He stops at a small café to get coffee and pastries for himself and his interpreter, Kaino. But Kaino is allergic to coconut oil, so Tadhg needs to ask about the ingredients in the food. However, he’s deaf, doesn’t have his phone, and no one working in the café knows ASL, American Sign Language.

As he’s struggling to communicate with the workers in the café, Quinn MacDougall interrupts to offer assistance. He knows some ASL and attempts to help facilitate communication. There is a strong attraction between Tadhg and Quinn, but neither attempts to get or give phone numbers for a future meet up. Luckily for them both, they find out that they now work for the same firm.

What is your full name?

Tadhg Donovan Byrne

Where and when were you born?

I was March 8th, 1986 in Seattle, Washington

What three words would others probably use to describe you?

Deaf with a capital D. Tenacious. Driven.

So that our readers can picture you better, what colour are your eyes?

Quinn would say they’re crystal blue, but I just say blue.

Do you have any physical traits that stand out such as scars, birthmarks or tattoos?

I’d say my most obvious physical trait that everyone notices is my deafness. I was born hearing, but when I was five I contracted meningitis and had a fever that was high enough and long enough to damage my auditory nerves. My mom, who is absolutely amazing, immediately enrolled us in a family ASL class at the local community college. She and I went twice a week for a few hours a session, and she hired a private tutor to come two other nights a week. She dove right in.

I do also have a tattoo of a Celtic dragon on my upper right arm. They symbolize wisdom and power.

It’s a reminder that I’m smart and strong enough to do what needs to be done, but it’s also what I should strive for. It’s both a reminder and a manifestation.

Do you mind telling us a little about how it is to be deaf/non speaking. Do you see it as a disability?

It’s my life. I don’t know any other way to be. I don’t remember much about when I could hear. I was born hearing, but when I was five, I contracted meningitis and had a fever that was high enough and long enough to damage my auditory nerves.
And no, it’s not a disability. Hearing is just something I can’t do. Like some people can’t roll their tongue, or other people are colorblind and can’t see certain colors.

A more sensitive question maybe, but have you been bullied because of it?

I think everyone experienced some form of bullying at some point in their lives. But I had friends in kindergarten who stayed my friends after I became deaf. I wanted to stay in my mainstream school with my friends through sixth grade, but the school was smaller and I knew all the teachers and students. It got a lot harder in middle school, and that’s when I convinced my mom to send me to a Deaf School. It was amazing and really helped me learn about what it means to be Deaf and to reach my full potential as a person.

You have already mentioned your mother a couple of times, she sounds like a real rock in your life. Tell us a little more about her.

She is called Mia (nee Dennehy) Byrne. She’s 58 years old and was born in Galway, Ireland. My mom is a force of nature. She’s the strongest person I know and we’re very close. She studied to be a nurse before I was born, and after she married and then divorced my stepfather, Bryan McCarthy, she went back to school to become a Nurse Practitioner. Now she works in a cardiac care unit for a highly prestigious medical group in Seattle and is frequently after Blake, my stepbrother, to stop pushing himself so much. We get together and have movie nights or go to dinner frequently.

And how about the rest of your immediate family?

My father was James Byrne. If he’s still alive, he’s 69 years old. He was born in Limerick, Ireland, but moved to Galway as a young man, which is where he met my mom. My parents were married in Ireland and moved to the USA before I was born. They divorced when I was five after I lost my hearing due to a severe case of meningitis. My mom learned ASL with me, but my father refused. When they divorced, he moved back to Ireland and we haven’t had contact with him since.
Then came my stepfather, Bryan McCarthy. He was born in Tacoma, Washington. He was a very jovial, generous man, but he drank a lot and had a wandering eye. He and my mom met in the hospital when he was admitted for tests for liver issues. They started dating and got married when I was six, had several good years together, and then amicably divorced. She got a huge settlement out of it, kept the house, Bryan remarried, and I got to keep my brother Blake. I got the best part of that deal. While she was married to Bryan, I was lucky enough to have a stellar education, both in and out of the Deaf community, an amazing place to live, vacations and nice clothes and so many other things.
I also have a stepbrother: Blake McCarthy 46 years old, Born July 29, 1974, in Seattle,
Washington.

It sounds like your childhood was a bit up and down…

It was pretty normal until I was five and lost my hearing. Then things were pretty bad for a few years, financially and emotionally. Mom and I had a lot to deal with. But then my mom got remarried and things got a lot better. That’s when I gained a step-brother, who is still one of my very best friends.

So who has had the most influence on you and how did they become your role model?

Besides my mom, who is an incredible woman and the strongest person I know, I’d have to say my step-brother Blake. We’re incredibly close, even though there’s a twelve-year age gap between us. I met him when our parents got married. Blake was 18, and I was 6. We were 20 and 8 when they divorced. Blake stayed in touch with me and my mom, and saw us frequently. He is my biggest supporter, but also the first one to tell me when I’m out of line about something. He always has my back, no matter what. And I’ll always be there for him, too.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

First, I wanted to be a dinosaur, but then Blake told me that wasn’t a viable career path, so I decided that I’d sell ice cream. Oh, the dreams of a six-year-old. When I got older, I wanted to be an artist and quickly realized I loved drawing geometric shapes and things that followed set patterns. When I was at school, one of the dorms was being renovated and I got my first look at blueprints. I was about fourteen. One of the teachers saw my interest and helped facilitate conversations with the workers and the architect on the project. I was hooked ever since.
Now Architecture is my passion.

When did you have your first kiss, and who with?

I was sixteen, and it was with Jake Zemanski. He was in my class and I thought he was sweet and cute. We’d been dancing around each other for months because I wasn’t completely sure he was into me. Probably because he wasn’t sure either. As a gay, Deaf teen at a boarding school, there weren’t many other out guys and Jake was still trying to figure himself out. Was he bi? Was he gay? Did he just like me? I knew pretty early on that I was gay.
Anyway, we were in the rec room playing foosball and everyone else was outside, or watching a movie or something. This was my first crush that wasn’t a celebrity, and I was in knots over him. At some point, we stopped pretending we were interested in foosball. He came over to my side of the table and stuck the ball in my goal and said he won. I asked him what the prize was, and he said a kiss.
Who was I to argue? It was actually really sweet, and soft, and pretty perfect if I’m honest. Not all awkward and too wet, like some ‌stories my friends have told me about their first kisses. I guess I got lucky.

Let’s chat about your relationships with others. Do you believe in the existence of soul mates and/or true love?

No. I believe there are the right people for the place you are in life right then. And if they care, and if you are truly compatible, then you will grow together as people and in your relationship.
And that will make it last.

What do you look for in a potential lover?

Acceptance. Understanding. Empathy. Kindness. Someone with a loving heart who can express themselves but who can also communicate well.

What is the quality you most like in a man?

Integrity.

How important is it to you that your partner is also deaf or at least can communicate in ASL?

Very. I am a Deaf man. It’s who I am, and I am unapologetic about that. People ask me if I’m sad I lost my hearing, or if I wish I could hear. My answer is absolutely no. I don’t want to hear. I don’t need to hear to have a full life. What am I missing because I can’t hear? Music? I love music and play it all the time. The sound of laughter? I don’t need to hear the actual sound to enjoy laughing, or the joy of seeing someone else laugh.
My partner needs to understand and embrace that. They need to want to and be able to be a part of that. My language is ASL, so my partner needs to know my language. I can’t learn to hear, so they have to learn to communicate with me in my language.
In any relationship, there is always compromise. Whose turn it is to do the dishes or whether you paint the living room beige or teal are typical couple compromises and are necessary for a stable, loving relationship. But you can’t compromise who you are, and who I am is a Deaf man.
The person I’m with needs to understand and accept that, just like I’ll have to understand and accept things about them, too.

What is your greatest regret so far, why?

Getting involved with my ex, Aston, and letting him control me, and isolate me from my friends and family for so long. He made me doubt myself, my ability to make decisions for myself. It was such an abusive relationship, and I didn’t see it until way after I should have. I’m still working on trusting my decisions, but every day I grow more confident. Quinn and Blake have a lot to do with that. Their faith in me gives me faith in myself.

What is your biggest secret?

I don’t really have secrets. Not anymore. My abusive relationship with Aston was a secret for years. I was so ashamed that I let it happen that I couldn’t tell anyone or ask for help. My best friend Tyler and my step-brother Blake figured it out on their own and got me out of there.

Who is the most important person in your life, why?

I have four important people in my life, all for different reasons, but none more or less
important than any of the others. My mom, my step-brother Blake, my partner Quinn, and my best friend, Tyler. They’ve all been there for me when things were bleak, and I love them all fiercely.

Quinn, the man of my dreams

Do you like yourself?

I do. I like and love myself. And I’m learning to forgive myself for mistakes I’ve made. I’m a work in progress.

It sounds like you are in a positive place, so where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Married to Quinn, the man of my dreams, working at our own successful architectural firm.
Maybe having a dog and talking about adopting kids. Happy. That’s where I see myself in five years. Very happy.

And now a few fun questions, what is your favorite color?

Gray. I know! People say that’s boring, but I love the contrast against white, and it’s a pretty bold color in its way.

What is your most treasured possession?

My family, and my culture.

Do you like to read?

I love to read. I read a lot of different things, depending on my mood. I’ll read biographies of famous architects, or Deaf pioneers. I’ll read books about architecture. I’ll read classic science fiction.

My brother Blake is a publisher for Hibernian Press, Gary Atkinson’s publishing company. Gary is one of my favorite authors. I get all of his books from Blake. They’re very similar to Tom Clancy’s books, only with more emotion and better sex scenes.

What makes you laugh?

Quinn, because he’s always doing or saying something funny.

What do you have in your pocket?

My phone and my wallet.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Clothing. I love quality clothing. Quinn thinks I’m a clotheshorse, and I suppose I am. I can’t help it. I love the way quality clothing feels on, and how it makes me feel wearing it. Like I can take on anything and succeed.

And the final question I like to ask everyone, who would you like to invite to your fantasy dinner party?

Four people:


Frank Lloyd Wright, a world-famous architect, because his designs inspire me and I’d love to discuss his use of space and place and incorporating nature into his work.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, another famous architect. Along with Frank Lloyd Wright, he’s one of the pioneers of modernist architecture. I’d love to pick his brain.

Kitty O’Neil, “the fastest woman in the world”. She was a stunt woman and a race driver, setting 22 different speed records on land and water in her lifetime. Oh, and she happened to also be deaf.

Vinton Gray Cerf, who is a huge advocate for accessibility, was on the board of trustees for Gallaudet University, is an advocate for net neutrality, and is recognized as one of “the fathers of the Internet”. He’s also hard of hearing.

That sounds like a dynamic guest list!

Thank you so much Tadhg for taking the time to pop in and answer our readers’ questions. Thank you for being so honest and open with your answers, especially sharing how you have turned past challenges into a positive outlook for the future, great inspiration for us all. I wish you all the luck in the world with your new romance, Quinn is very lucky to have found you!

Blurb

Tadhg: After a nasty breakup with my manipulative ex, I returned home to Seattle to lick my wounds. I’m done with relationships. From now on I’m focusing on my career.There are just a few issues with that.

1. It’s not that easy for a Deaf man to succeed in a Hearing world, even with the right degree and experience.

2. Quinn MacDougall. He’s my co-worker. He’s also incredibly talented, driven, and distractingly handsome.

3. He’s hearing. And that’s the biggest problem of all. How can someone who isn’t Deaf ever truly understand and accept me?

Embrace Me is a 95,000-word contemporary MM romance about language barriers, loving but demanding families, crappy bosses, and sexy guys in speedos. It contains no cheating, and a guaranteed Happily Ever After.

You can connect with Author Beck Grey here.

Work In Progress 3.04

Speaking In Silence

On this train journey from London to Cornwall, which is how I am measuring my progress on Speaking In Silence, we have now reached Reading. That, in my writing world, represents chapter six, and about 20,000 words. The journey was running smoothly until we had engine trouble early last week at Slough.

For the previous few days, I’d been having trouble with my left eye; seeing things floating around in it that I couldn’t wash out. Thinking I should do something about this, I popped down to see our local doctor, who, after an examination, recommended I saw an ophthalmologist. We don’t have one of them here on the island, so, I called my health insurance people, and they agreed to arrange a consultation with one on Rhodes. The agent rang back me late on Tuesday evening to say I had an appointment for 10.15 the next day. Luckily, at this time of year, there is a daily boat leaving at 7.45, so I caught that on Wednesday and was in the ophthalmologist’s chair at the appointed time. After nearly two hours of all kinds of tests, and with my pupils fully dilated for the next six hours, she rang the optical centre down the road, and they told me to come straight on over.

During the time the drops were expanding my pupils to the size of a bushbaby’s eyes, I’d popped out to buy sunglasses to wear over my usual specs, and boy, did I need them as I fumbled my way up the road, across the crossing and down another road, blundering into the medical centre a few minutes later. Another quick consultation with a second specialist and I was in his operating chair within ten minutes of arriving. (You have to love Greece for its abundance of specialists who charge very reasonable rates.) The diagnosis was a tear on my retina, and that’s a tear as in rip, not a tear as in drip. Ten minutes and 150 laser shots later, I was done. Yes, it was painful; like someone sticking a needle in your eye followed by a punch inside your head, though not on every shot, so when you thought it was over and the shots weren’t hurting, you’d get another stab. Afterwards, the doc told me, ‘You can’t jog,’ to which I replied, ‘You’re right, I can’t,’ and I am not to lift weights or bend over or violently shake my head for a month, but I am, at least, repaired.

Anyhow, that kept me from working and caused another hiatus in my journey, but I re-joined the train last Thursday, and have been chugging along ever since.

If you’re wondering why the train references, it’s because the pivotal story point of Speaking In Silence happened on a train journey from Brighton to Croydon in 1891. I am basing my character’s story on a true event from that year, though setting the backstory in 1887 for convenience. The story isn’t all about trains, though they will come into it, it’s about friendship. For those readers hankering for another love story, you might have to hanker a little longer, as this next book will be about friend-love, rather than erotic love.

And on that note, I should sway my way up-carriage and find Edward, the character who is currently telling his friends what happened to him when he was 16, and why a visit to the Larkspur Academy by a group of prominent MPs should have given him cause to run away. I’ll check in with you at the next stop next Wednesday, when, eyes, lasers and bushbabies willing, I will have progressed the story further.

A newly commissioned drawing of one of my favourite characters, get to know him better here

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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-1.png

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.