Making Your Book Titles Count

I’ve often been asked how I come up with the titles for my novels, so today, I thought I’d look at a few and explain how they came about.

Just the other day on Self-Publishing School, Chandler Bolt wrote a piece titled ‘Book title ideas: Choosing your own & generators to use.’ In his article, he says titles are short hooks that advertise your book by using the fewest possible words, and suggests that potential readers take less than five seconds to decide whether or not to buy the book. Some things to bear in mind, he says, are to

  • make the title memorable,
  • make sure its genre-appropriate and
  • make it intriguing.

I agree with everything he says in his article (it’s well worth reading), and it caused me to reminisce about how I came up with some of my titles.

What Comes First, the Title or the Story?

Good question. I just experimented with a book title generator and, to be frank, wasn’t impressed. It was a basic thing where you selected an adjective and a noun, and it bunged the in front of random words. It generated things like ‘The Enchanted Pencil’, ‘The Imaginary Vase’ and ‘The Crazy Coffin‘. Okay, fun if you’re looking for inspiration and you don’t mind every book title starting with The, but it wasn’t really my style. I could have done better by opening a dictionary at random and picking the first two words I came across.

Actually, let’s try that…

The Queer Informant

The Predynastic Deuterium


The Putty Cushion

Now we’re just being silly. Let’s get back on track. Where in the world did ‘Deviant Desire’ come from?

Deviant Desire

Deviant Desire started out as Something Lamplight, or it might have been Something Gaslight, because I wanted a title that reflected the background of the story, Whitechapel in 1888, during the time of the Ripper murders. As I was writing the book, I thought more about the title, and suddenly ‘Deviant Desire’ popped into my head. I hadn’t read that article I just mentioned or anything like it, so this was instinctive, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.

Deviant Desire works on several levels. The main character, Silas Hawkins, is a renter and a trickster, so he’s a deviant. He’s also gay and so is the other MC, Lord Clearwater, so according to the lores of the time, they are both deviants. When they meet, they fall for each other, crash, bang, wallop style, so there’s your desire.

Meanwhile… The villain of the piece is killing young men as a way of laying a trap for our hero. He, the villain, has a deviant desire, not only to trap the hero, but a desire to kill, and if that’s not deviant, I don’t know what is.

Twisted Tracks

The title for the follow-on novel to Deviant Desire, Twisted Tracks, took a little longer to come up with, but it works in the same way. A villain is enticing the hero to a confrontation, and he does it with various twisted clues, including an anagram, a twisting of words into other words. Our hero and his friends follow the clues, the tracks left by the villain, and everything climaxes on a runaway steam train which, of course, runs on tracks. Until they run out…


Unspeakable Acts

The trend continues in book three of the Clearwater Mysteries with Unspeakable Acts. The trend of using succinct two-word titles, an adjective and a noun, but without ‘The’ in front of them. While thinking of this title, I wanted to continue using words that the Victorians used for gay men and their sexuality. So far, we’ve had deviant and twisted, and another common thing was to refer to gay sex as an unspeakable act. The story of book three concerns a performance at the Royal Opera House at which someone is due to make a speech, but if he does, he will be assassinated, therefore he can’t, or, in other words, his speech is unspeakable. The performance is of an opera, so the word ‘acts’ has a couple of other meanings (the division of a play, what the actors do on stage), and it all ties together with the background theme of the Clearwater collection, the dangers of being gay in Victorian times.

And more…

I could outline every single one of the 11 Clearwater titles, but it would become repetitive. In summary, though, they all have double meanings: Fallen Splendour (book 4) refers to a line from the major clue of the mystery, ‘The splendour falls on castle walls’, and also refers to someone’s downfall; Bitter Bloodline (book 5) refers to the taste of a Transylvanian wine, a blood feud, and Bram Stoker; Artful Deception (book 6) centres on an artwork and theatrical tricks, while hero and villain try to outwit and deceive each other; Negative Exposure (book 9) refers to being photographed naked, having the negatives of those photos printed and therefore exposed, and because of that, a man’s secret coming into the open, thus, also being exposed.

You’ll note that for books seven and eight, the titles differ. We’ve moved on from the use of deviant et al., and the titles are longer. Home From Nowhere (book 7) was a line that came to me when the characters were speaking. As often happens, I let them speak and, later, edit what they say. In this one, Fecker says to Jasper something like, ‘Like me, you have come from nowhere’, and later, Jasper says to Billy, ‘I feel like I’ve come home.’ Oh yes, I thought, Jasper (the MC) has come home from nowhere, and there we go.

One of a Pair (book 8) is another play on words. Jasper is one of a pair of young men falling in love, and Billy is the same as he’s the other half of the pair. There’s another meaning to the title which I can’t tell you in case you haven’t read the book, but if you do, you will realise the relevance.

Banyak & Fecks, The Clearwater Prequel

Banyak & Fecks was the first time the title came before the story. I’d been thinking about a novel detailing how these two friends met. Deviant Desire opens with them in the East End, and they are already very close by the time we meet them, so how did they get there? My husband said there should be a prequel telling us just that, and I wanted to write something more character driven rather than full-on mystery. I wanted it to be about Banyak & Fecks, as they call each other, so that had to be the title, and it is.

The Larkspur Series

Still trying to keep to the title-writing rules of catchy, intriguing and memorable while sticking to my own deviant desire for titles to have more than one meaning while being relevant to the plot, I moved into slightly different territory for the Larkspur series.

Guardians of the Poor, the title of book one, refers to the real guardians of the poor, those who oversaw, ran and were responsible for the workhouses. It also refers to the two main characters, and how they do something which improves the life of those in a workhouse; they become guardians of the poor in another sense.

Keepers of the Past keeps up the rhythm of the series titles, and refers to archaeologists and a cult member (perhaps), while Agents of the Truth completes the three-part telling of Dalston and Joe’s story. It also refers to archaeologists and men working for the Clearwater Detective Agency.

Seeing Through Shadows

For book four in the Larkspur series, I wanted something a little more atmospheric, and I wanted to get away from the rhythm of ‘Plural Noun of the Single Noun’ of the first three books. Seeing Through Shadows gives us a verb, a preposition and a noun, so a different rhythm, while remaining succinct and a little intriguing. Do we see through shadows? Aren’t we just seeing what they are shadowing? I mean, if there’s a shadow on the wall, are we seeing the shadow or the wall? In the story, we’re not sure what we’re seeing, so that fitted rather well.

I am currently working on Speaking in Silence, which is an oxymoron, because you can’t speak without making a sound. Yes, okay, so we have sign language and writing, but that, strictly speaking, isn’t speaking. Speaking in Silence refers to those things which are left unsaid, and in the story, there are many of them. The most difficult ‘unsaid’ part of writing this novel has been keeping information from the reader; that’s the thing I am not saying; the silence if you like. The reader will find out what’s going on in the end, but I wanted to keep them in the dark for as long as possible. I hope it works. We will have to wait and see. Also in this story, there are lots of things that the characters don’t say, but in the gaps in conversations, they and we understand their meaning… It’s complicated to explain, and you’ll have to wait a couple of months before you can read it when I hope all will be revealed.

Other Titles

I’ve written more than the Clearwater and Larkspur series. You might have heard of or read The Mentor Collection, for example. They are ‘Older man mentors younger man in love, lust and a few other things’, kind of stories. The titles aren’t tricky, though again, there is a pattern. All four are ‘The Mentor of…’ somewhere, and that somewhere takes the classic form of adjective and noun. Here, the adjective suggests loneliness or isolation (reflecting the younger, lost-his-way character) and the noun is something stable, a home (representing the older character).

The Mentor Series

Thus, we have: The Mentor of…

Wild Hill Farm

Barren Moor Ridge

Lone Marsh House

Lost Wood Hall

As Wildhill Farm, Barrenmoor Ridge etc., as they are also place names.

To Finish

As usual, I am rambling on now, and I am sure you got the point some time ago. So, to finish, I thought I’d return to that random title generator and come up with some more Mentor titles. This isn’t just for fun, I also want to highlight what I believe: that the author should come up with the title, and not use one of these random word-pickers, although they might spark ideas for stories. Perhaps. How about reading…

The Mentor of the Perfect Fireplace

The Mentor of the Haunted Coffin

The Mentor of the Happy Wheelbarrow

The Students of the Windy Wind

Remember: keep the title succinct, intriguing, genre-specific and, if you can, consider the rhythm.

See you on Wednesday for more WIP news, have a great weekend and happy reading!

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…

Happy Birthday Lord Clearwater

To celebrate what would have been Lord Clearwater’s 163rd birthday, I have made two books free for two days. ‘Banyak & Fecks’, the Clearwater Mysteries’ prequel, and the first book in the series, ‘Deviant Desire’, are free on Kindle for this weekend only. Click here to check out the series.


Saturday, March 26th, 1859. The Illustrated Times, on its front page, began thus:

The coming congress.

So it seems that the great questions which for months have threatened Europe with war, are to be brought to the test of arbitration, and settled on the principles of common sense.

(The illustration shows ‘The Prince of Wales’s balcony on the Corso, Rome, during the carnival.’)

One hundred and sixty-three years later, the headlines aren’t that dissimilar, which is a shame, although there is less common sense in some areas of the world. Since Archer, Lord Clearwater, was born, there have been other historical events on his birthday, one of which is the birth of author James Collins (aka Jackson Marsh), in 1963. Also of note might be, the birth of Tennessee Williams in 1911, Richard Dawkins in 1941, Diana Ross in 1944, Bangladesh became an independent state in 1971, and (I hate to say it) Vladimir Putin was elected Head of State in 2000. On a happier note, Doctor Who returned to UK television on this day in 2005.

As it is Archer’s 163rd birthday, I thought I might take a look at what he has been through since he came to literary life on March 7th, 2019. Archer is only three years old in book terms, but he has been on, or played a part in, 13 adventures so far, appearing in 10 of the Clearwater Mysteries, and, so far, three of the Larkspur Mysteries. He doesn’t appear in the Clearwater prequel, Banyak & Fecks, other than as a vague reference in a dream Silas has, where he dreams of meeting such a man in a carriage full of money. He will appear in the fourth Larkspur mystery, ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ due out next month, although only briefly, because he is mainly away in London, dealing with events which are taking place in ‘The Delamere Mysteries.’ This is an idea I have for a second spin-off from the Clearwater Mysteries, and which I hope to write next year.

Adventures Archer has been involved in during his literary life so far.

As I was saying… His first claim to fame was unmasking the East End Ripper, the villain, based on Jack the Ripper, who started the series off in Deviant Desire. Since then, he has faced many perils, including: Fighting on a dockside gantry and falling into the Thames. Battling a villain on the roof of a speeding steam train heading for disaster. Racing across the country in a blizzard to rescue two kidnap victims. Appearing in court in full regalia to defend his innocent friends. Confronting other villains, falling into a mineshaft, and sword fighting his way out of an assassination.

Archer is quite an active chap, both in and out of the bedroom. In 1877, he became a lieutenant on The Britannia, where he served under his brother, Crispin, during conflicts on the Black Sea.

HMS Brittania entering Portsmouth UK

Archer was honourably discharged from the navy in 1886 following a near-fatal injury inflicted by his own brother. When Crispin was declared incurably insane, the 18th viscount reluctantly gave into Lady Emily’s wishes and arranged for Archer to succeed the title on his death. His naval training and upbringing have served him well, but he has natural talents too. These have seen him through love, laughter and a lot of laughs, while leaving him loyal, lordly and loving. I couldn’t think of anymore ‘L’ words to alliterate his character, only to add that he’s also rather lush.

He is handsome, debonair, and extremely well endowed, both financially and… elsewhere. In my writer’s imagination, Archer started off as a classic young, good-looking, wealthy aristocrat who was, in a way, a reluctant hero. His brother, Crispin, should have taken the title and all that goes with it, but Crispin was a psychopath and is already locked up when the stories start. Archer suffered much in his childhood because of Crispin, but also because of his father, who thought he was soft and unmanly, treated him appallingly both physically and emotionally, and made his early life as difficult as hell. However, Archer managed to live through all that, and when he was elevated to the title in 1888 (two months before the stories start), he did so with resolve.

Archer is, as we would say, gay, and has known it since an early age. His first sexual awakenings happened with Tommy Payne, then a hall boy at both Larkspur Hall and Clearwater House. Later, Tommy became Thomas, the footman, and when Archer took the title, he elevated him to the role of butler, where he became Mr Payne.

Through the series, Archer and Thomas’ love for each other bubbles beneath the surface, and rolls in waves between physical desire and platonic love. Because of their stations in life, there is no chance of a physical relationship, however, not even when Archer makes Thomas his steward, and Thomas becomes Tom. A steward is the highest rank Archer can give him to make him a gentleman, without Thomas leaving to become a man of business, and that’s something Thomas would never do. Tom and Archer will be together in an endless bromance until they die. Meanwhile, when Archer is away from Larkspur, Tom more or less takes his role, and some of the staff have commented privately that Tom is the new Lady Clearwater.

Archer has had lovers, though, and it was being discovered with one while in the navy that led to Crispin’s attempt to murder him. But, Simon Harrington died, leaving Archer to face civilian life and the viscountcy alone. Thus, he put his energies into his philanthropic endeavours, and because he understood what it was like to crave a life with ‘men of a similar heart’, and not be allowed one, he set about creating the Clearwater Foundation. In other words, Archer was gay, being gay was illegal in those days, and he wanted to help other gay men to exist as themselves. He began this with the Cheap Street Mission for rent boys, and while setting that up, wanted to interview one or two renters to get their thoughts and understand their needs. Enter Silas Hawkins. The two meet, and the earth moves. It’s love at first sight, and although the river of true love hasn’t run smoothly, Archer and Silas are still together to this day in 1891, which is where we are currently at in the Clearwater world.

Silas Hawkins, street-rat and renter

Archer has a knack for knowing when another man is ‘of a similar heart.’ In other words, he’s got good gaydar, and that’s why his house is gradually filling up with gay staff. It’s not because he lusts after them, because he doesn’t (although I think he harbours a secret desire to experience what gave the straight Ukrainian, Andrej, his nickname ‘Fecker’, but then, don’t we all?). Archer simply likes to help people, particularly, but not exclusively, young gay men. Hence, he opened the Larkspur Academy for young, gifted, and, probably, gay men from underprivileged backgrounds.

Larkspur Hall Inspiration

By the time he did this, early in 1890, he had gathered around him a team of loyal and good friends, elevating each one of them to a better position in life, as he himself was elevated to viscount. Thomas we know about (hall boy to steward). From the slums of the Wiral to the back alleys of Greychurch, Silas goes on to become his own man of business. James Wright enters the series as a messenger, becomes household staff, a valet and later has his own private company. Andrej, a Ukrainian refugee, goes from war to circus, renting, groom to horse master. Lucy, from maid to head cook. Sally, from chambermaid to the youngest housekeeper of a grand house in the country. Barnaby Nancarrow from footman to butler, other stable lads at Larkspur become household staff or are promoted, and gradually, the young take the places of older staff, as Archer rids his life of his father’s legacy, and makes his land, estates, properties and business his own.

Currently, as I mentioned, he is in London working on some cases that I’ve not even thought of yet, and while he is there, the Larkspur Academy is about to welcome its next man, Chester Cadman. You will be able to read ‘Seeing through Shadows’ soon. If you will excuse me, I shall return to working on the new novel while wishing Archer a happy birthday, and looking forward to whatever he is going to be doing next.

The Clearwater Inheritance. The End of the Line?

The Clearwater Inheritance. The End of the Line?

I have quite a lot of news for you today, starting with the release of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, book ten in the series. As I write, the Kindle version is now available to download, and the book is also on Kindle Unlimited. You can find it here. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0971F1HT3 That’s the Amazon.com link, but it is available in other Amazon countries/sites too.

The paperback version is still being checked by the Amazon bots and going through that process but should be available any moment if it’s not already out there. You will be able to find it from the main Clearwater Series page here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07RPCKF4L

Is this the end of Clearwater?

In a word, no. Having written ten stories and a prequel, so 11 books in total, I thought it might be time for a change. However, I enjoy the Clearwater world and characters so much, I don’t want to let them go. What was starting to become a problem for me, though, was having so many characters I wanted to write about, and I was looking for a way to deal with this. In ‘Inheritance’, I wanted to give a sense of something ending and something about to begin, and I wanted as many of my principles to play a part as possible without the story becoming cluttered. So, without giving anything away…

In ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, you’ll find four storylines taking place, and all leading to the same end: Who will inherit the Clearwater fortune and name? The story is set in three locations; Larkspur Hall in Cornwall, Clearwater House in London and across Europe. After it becomes clear that the inheritance is in jeopardy, the ‘crew’ split up to work various leads. Some stay at Larkspur, some go to London, and two head off to the Carpathian Mountains. Each team is working their own lead and has their own tasks. Meanwhile, the usurper to the Clearwater fortune is heading towards them with a devious plan of his own.

That’s the basic outline, but Clearwater’s inheritance (and thus, his ability to fund charities, run the mission, help those in need and do what he does) is not the only thing that might be lost. His new venture, The Larkspur Academy, will not happen if he loses the race to secure what is rightfully his. And that’s where the continuation comes in.

I’m now starting on the follow-on series, The Larkspur Mysteries. My intention is to bring in new characters and make each mystery/love story/mashup mainly about one new and central character. However, they exist in the Clearwater world. So, in the first book, which currently has a working title of ‘Dalston Blaze’, we meet an eighteen-year-old chap brought up in a workhouse. He is rescued from a predicament and sent to Larkspur to join the new ‘Academy.’ Thus, some of the existing characters play parts in the new series but are not always central. I’ll say no more for fear of giving away things that happen in ‘Inheritance.’

Thanks

This seems an appropriate place to thank people for their help in making the Clearwater series such a popular success. First of all, you, the readers who keep the writing going not only through book sales and reviews but also through interaction on my Facebook page. I must also thank those who work behind the scenes to ensure historical accuracy, people such as Andy Ward, my railways guru who helps with timetables and routes and all those factual details I love to insert into the fiction. Jenine, my PA, who does sterling work to promote the books and this site, and who keeps me in line with orders to post this and write an interview for that while holding down two full-time jobs, one of which is bringing up my two godchildren. Similarly, I must thank Neil, my husband, for reading the first drafts, calling me a ‘bastard’ for making him cry and laughing in the right places.

On the publishing side, my proofreader, Ann Attwood, tirelessly corrects my punctuation and typos with the patience of a saint and never complains when I repeatedly make the same mistakes despite her notes. Andjela K, my cover designer who, I think you’ll agree, produces some amazing covers. She does this from a few notes I send her and always seems to understand exactly what I am after. For ‘Inheritance’, I would like to thank Khayyam Akhtar, who produced an accurate map of the route two characters take across Europe, including the route of the Orient Express, which features in the story. The map is based on an existing German map of the time. Finally, Scott and Mark at Other Worlds Ink who now do my layout and interior design, and their reviewer Maryann who has been so supportive.

Price changes

And now for some business news. Thanks to various changes in tax and stuff I don’t fully understand, I have to put up the price of my eBooks and paperbacks. We noticed that many people sell their ‘novels’ at the same price as me, but those novels are actually novellas or even short stories. I have always tried to keep my prices low, but I was recently reminded that I am producing full-length novels of at least 90,000 words, and I should be offering them at a price more appropriate to the amount of material. For example, ‘Inheritance’ is 150,000 words long (which is why the print costs are more than usual), and that’s a lot of typing for a return of only $0.17c per sale.

However, for three days starting tomorrow, the first in the series will be run as a giveaway, so ‘Deviant Desire’ will be available for free for a very limited time. This is to celebrate the ‘end’ of the series and hopefully encourage new readers to start at the beginning and carry on through by buying the other 10 books. This, by the way, will be my first ever price rise since I started publishing ten years ago.

Instagram

A quick note. I now have an Instagram account/page/thing, and although I don’t really know what Instagram does, you can now follow me there.

MM Fiction Café on Sunday has an Interview with Archer

The MM Fiction Café will be hosting an interview with Archer, Lord Clearwater, this Sunday, 13th June. Check out their blog post, and find out a little more about Archer than you might already know.

A Treat from Doctor Markland

And finally… Another talented artist has been working with me to produce sketches of some of the characters for the Clearwater Family page, which you can find in the main menu. Dazzling Designz works through a ‘work for sale’ site and has been drawing several of the Clearwater crew over the last few months.

Her latest is a sketch of Doctor Markland, the scatty but brilliant doctor who first appears in ‘Deviant Desire.’ (He actually appears in the prequel, Banyak & Fecks too, if you look closely). The Doc has just appeared in an early scene in the new Larkspur Academy series, so he’s still with us. I thought I’d end by showing you the sketch. This is how I imagine him. Oh, and here’s a little known fact… When I was born, I was delivered — in the harsh winter of 63 when the Romney Marshes were deep in snow and the roads impassable — by our family doctor, Doctor Markland. He was nothing like the Doc in my books, though he did, apparently, take a first look at me and say, ‘He looks like a keen beer drinker; you should call him Toby,’ so he wasn’t far off.

I’ll be back next week. If, in the meantime, you want something to read, then ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ is out there and waiting.

The Real History Behind The Clearwater Series

Part 2 – Trains

This is the second blog in a series where I look at the real historical events and facts behind my Clearwater Mysteries Series. Today we talk about my love of train travel, how it features in the books and are joined by my personal Railway Guru, Andy.

There is a lot of train travel in The Clearwater Mysteries, and for two reasons. Firstly, in the era in which the books are set, there were no cars or aeroplanes, travel was steam-powered, horse-driven, by sail, or you could walk. Secondly, I’ve always had a thing for travel, maps and routes. Within that is an interest in steam trains, though I am no expert. It must be in my blood, this thing about locomotives, and if it is, I can identify a good reason why.

The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway: A Childhood on the Tracks

It’s ironic, maybe, that I was born in 1963, the year the first Beeching report was undertaken. ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’ sought to streamline the nationalised railways industry and was responsible for identifying 2,363 stations for closure (55%) and 30% of route miles. It’s also interesting that when I was born, my small, fairly remote hometown still had a railway station, and steam trains were still in use on mainlines, although they were being replaced by diesel. However, I can honestly say that the first time I ever travelled by train, it was pulled by a steam locomotive.

New Romney Railway (1966) – YouTube film

A mile from where I was born (in a petrol station and car repair shop, by the way) was, and still is, the central station for the world’s smallest passenger-carrying light railway. That’s the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (RHDR), a 13.5-mile steam railway on a 15-inch gauge. The line was opened in 1927 and later expanded, much used by the military in WWII, and runs today as a popular tourist attraction. When I was at school, my classmates from out of town used it to get to school, and when I was growing up, it was part of my playground. I have childhood memories of not only riding on it but also being at the stations among the steam, playing on the tracks and simply watching the locomotives trailing steam and smoke across the marsh.

As an aside, at some point in the 70s, my godmother, The Dowager Lady Alvingham (on whom Lady Marshall is based in the Clearwater books), showed an interest in buying a castle that stands on a hill overlooking Romney Marsh. At the same time, my uncle, who had a passion for model railways, showed an interest in buying the RHDR. Their plan was to sit in Aunty Dolly’s castle, watching Uncle Hugh’s ‘toy’ trainset chugging across the flatlands below. Sadly, it never came to fruition, but my uncle did give us the model layout he’d built, and my father installed it in our attic. It was a vast landscape about 12 feet by four, had houses with working lights, the Flying Scotsman with real smoke, and provided hours of endless fascination for my brothers and me.

Still Chugging

My interest in train travel is still chugging along. In fact, it is my preferred method of travel. There is something romantic in planning a journey, and sometimes I think I am a frustrated travel agent. I don’t mean popping into Expedia and booking a flight and hotel; I mean looking at a map, working out what railways will get you there, finding the timetables and working out the connections.

Our travel companion, Paddington, at budapest train station

A few years ago, Neil and I decided on a Central European holiday. It was my fault, really. I wanted to travel a few countries by train, so I got out the atlas, Googled a bit, and set to work on a route. Because we live on an island, we had to start the journey by boat and fly to our first destination, Vienna. We were met by Neil’s brother, who lives there, and travelled into the city by train, so that was a good start. After a couple of days there, we moved on, and in the space of a couple of weeks, went from Vienna to Prague to Budapest to Belgrade on a variety of train journeys, some more classy than others.

Me fulfilling a bit of a dream, on a train, in the Carpathian mountains, coming back from Transylvania

Before this, we had been to Romania for my 50th birthday, flying into Bucharest and then taking the train into the Carpathian Mountains to Sighisoara, the alleged birthplace of Vlad Tepes on whom Stoker based Dracula. We also travelled by train to Brasov and stayed there on the way back to Bucharest, and we did all this first-class because, in Europe, ticket prices are often a tenth of the price they are in the UK and elsewhere.

I mention all this because, in the upcoming novel ‘The Clearwater Inheritance,’ some of the characters find themselves travelling by train and visit, among other places, Vienna, Budapest, and Brasov, and they journey through the Carpathian Mountains.

 

Across Canada by train, 2020

One of my life’s ambitions was to travel across Canada by train, a five-day journey from Toronto to Vancouver. (We passed through a place called Clearwater, and stopped at a place called Collins.) This we achieved last year, just before the world was overcome by the virus.

 

 

Seen in Vancouver

Actually, we left Vancouver at the end of the Canadian leg of the journey, the day after the country went into lockdown. Although our trip wasn’t over, we had to cut the London and Athens legs short as there was no point in going there; everything was shut. Rearranging flights at two in the morning while sitting in an airport, buying boat tickets, finding hotels, and wondering whether we might have to travel from London to Athens by hire car or train… Well, for me, that was like a weird dream come true. The travel agent in me kicked in, and we became like continents on ‘The Amazing Race.’

You won’t be surprised to learn I am keen on ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ by Jules Verne.

——————————————————————————-

At this point I thought it would be fun to invite my good friend Andy over tell us a little about himself. He has become my Railway Guru, always willing to answer my questions and check facts for me as I research the series. I asked him where his love of trains came from and how that seed grew.

I first became interested in railways at the age of 10 when my parents unwisely bought me an “ABC” locomotive spotting book to shut me up on an interminable family holiday rail journey from Birmingham to Ilfracombe. They came to very much regret doing this as my bedroom filled up with railway magazines, models, and bits of actual railway equipment. I was already interested in buses as there was a major bus depot a few minutes walk from my house. Through the teenage years the interests became more advanced with much borrowing of books from the library, and at the same time steam was disappearing from the UK national railway network. No doubt all that reading about how things came to be the way they were encouraged me to take a University degree in history, and then start a career in transport management (buses in this case). A switch to managing freight transport followed, and then manufacturing industry.

So great that your childhood hobby grew into your career. And I know that even now in retirement you have managed to carry on in a new capacity…

The view of the Booking Officer

Yes, after semi-retirement I took up a part-time position at my local heritage steam railway as Booking Office Supervisor, surrounded by 1898 vintage buildings, real working steam trains, and a superb shop selling second hand railway books. I have also added looking at ferries and aircraft to my transport studies.

When not doing this I like reading fiction, often set in the late-Victorian, Edwardian, 1920/30/40s era, and sneering at authors who get their railway facts wrong (and so often their geography too). Being used as a consultant on your “Clearwater” series was immensely satisfying as a result.

Thank you Andy and I really think that maybe it will be your turn next to write a book!

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So back to my writing and how I use trains in the Clearwater Mysteries.

The first time a train appears is in chapter one of book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’.

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

That’s the only time an underground train is mentioned in the series, but overground trains start to feature from then on. I started this book with an ending in mind. I wanted one of those classic ‘fight on the roof of a moving train’ moments and wanted to add in men on horseback riding alongside, someone (James) inching along the outside of the trucks, the villain doing away with the driver, and the train racing out of control towards a fiery end… And that’s exactly what you get.

Archer wasn’t far behind, galloping from the ridge to the rear of the train and encouraging his mount with his crop. The horse knew its purpose and worked with him, delivering him up the embankment to the backplate. The viscount drew level with the last car, stood in the stirrups, and grabbed the rail. With one great leap, he left the saddle and swung his legs across to the car. He landed first time and clambered aboard as the horse veered off and slowed. Archer wasted no time climbing to the roof, and James turned his attention to the engine.

‘Jimmy!’ Archer was above him, fighting the wind for his balance. ‘Warn the driver. Stop the train.’

Everything was shadows and speed, gusts and fumes as James fought his way to the next car. Wooden, it offered a narrow walkway, making it easier for him to pass, but there were no handholds apart from cracks in the planking where he dug his fingertips, pressing his body flat against the side. He didn’t know how many more cars there were before the tender, but the headlamps were still a way off. The driver was expecting to continue straight on and was steaming the engine hard. [Twisted Tracks, chapter 24.]

Fallen Splendour and Other Journeys

Trains appear again in book four, ‘Fallen Splendour.’ For this one, I wanted another tense sequence and included a race against time. In this case, I had to get James from London to the Welsh coast to collect Archer and get them both back to the High Court in London in as few hours as possible. Initially, I thought I had not left myself enough time and thought I might have to rewrite some chapters because the time I had given James to achieve his task seemed unreasonably short. Then I referred to my railways guru, Andy, and he told me about ‘specials.’ Apparently, if you had enough money and clout, you could have the railways put on a special train just for you, and this, they could do with a few hours’ notice. Perfect! Of course, being a Clearwater novel, I didn’t go for just any old special, which is why Archer finds himself steaming through the night in Queen Victoria’s royal carriage.

Bitter Bloodline’ (book five) starts with a train crash. ‘Artful Deception’ (book six) takes us across the English Channel and on a relatively short journey to the Netherlands and back, plus another train journey to Derbyshire. In book seven, ‘Home From Nowhere’, Jasper encounters his first journey by train.

Jasper’s fear soon gave way to intrigue when the train moved, and became awe when it picked up speed. It wasn’t long before he began to enjoy the rhythmic trundling, and the only time he thought he was going to die was when they passed through a tunnel. The

sound was deafening, smoke poured in through the window, and the carriage was plunged into darkness. It was over in seconds, leaving the footman struggling with the window, and Jasper shaking.

Train journeys are also featured in books eight and nine, but when we reach book ten… Well, that’s when I thought it was time to branch out from the domestic lines and go intercontinental.

The Clearwater Inheritance

You know how I am with ‘Dracula’, the epistolary novel to end all epistolary novels in my opinion… I employ a little of this ‘story in journals, letters, and other documents’ style in The Clearwater Inheritance.

Dracula opens with Jonathan Harker writing about his journey from Munich to Bistritz (now called Bistrita), travelling through Vienna and Budapest. Two of my characters take the same route because they are also travelling to Transylvania (though that’s got nothing to do with vampires).

I may have travelled on similar routes, but not, obviously, in the same century or on the same kind of trains, so I had to do some research into how such a journey would have been. You know how you sometimes get lucky? I put a search string into the search engine that read something like this: ‘Travelling in Europe in 1890’, and what should I find in a book collection?

Travels in Various Parts of Europe During the Years 1888, 1889 and 1890, Being a short and practical account, by Gilbert H. W. Harrison (with 24 illustrations).

I couldn’t have asked for anything better and was able to draw on first-person accounts of Folkestone, the channel crossing, Paris, Vienna, Budapest and parts of Hungary as they had been experienced in the same year as my story. I even have my characters stay at or mention hotels and stations Harrison saw and described.

Harrison was on a tourist route, however, and my characters follow the same route until they realise Thomas Cook & Son haven’t grasped the urgency of their journey. There are other delays, and backstory from ‘Banyak & Fecks’ comes into play at one point, as do other pre-mentioned backstories concerting Lady Clearwater’s Romanian/Transylvanian connections and other things to do with Archer’s past. Ultimately, my travelling characters need to get back to England in a hurry.

The map created for ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ based on one from 1912. All rights reserved. Dark lines and lighter solid lines show the Orient Express routes, dotted lines are the characters’ other routes.

Again, I spoke to Andy about this side of the story and asked how long it would have taken from Bodmin in Cornwall to Brasov in what is now Romania in 1890. He came back with suggested times and routes. Finding original timetables is never easy, but I reckon, in the story, I am as close to what was possible as I can be. For the return journey, though, I needed to speed things up a bit and so looked into using the Express d’Orient, the Orient Express as we now call it.

A timetable from The Orient Express

A couple of chapters happen aboard this luxury train, but this is not an Agatha Christie, and the journey to and from Brasov is only one aspect of the story, but again, I tried to be as accurate as possible, at least with descriptions and distances. I had to reschedule the Orient Express to a different day, else the rest of the plot wouldn’t work, but apart from that, the race home is, as far as I can see, accurate, if a little tight. The characters have an awful lot of luck making steamers and ‘very early’ trains, but hey, it’s fiction and fact mixed, faction, you might say, and it was all possible.

End of the line

Is book ten the end of the line for Clearwater? Has the series finally reached its destination? All I can say is, running at 150,000 words, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ is the longest of the stories, and it does have a sense of rounding things off. It also has a sense of leaving something open for another series set in the same world, and it is that idea I will be considering once this book has been published.

Look out for my newsletter at the start of June, as there will be an extract from the book included as a special preview for those who sign up. (There won’t be any plot spoilers.)

I must go now, but I will add a list of references I have used for my railway research as a guide for anyone who is interested to know more.

Books:


 

Journal of the Society of Arts (1891), Austro-Hungarian Railways and the Zone System
London Daily News 1890 (and other newspapers of the time)

Online:

GlobalSecurity.org (on which my map of the route is based) https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/europe/orient-express.htm

The Man In Seat 61

 

 

News From Both Worlds

News From Both Worlds

Hello everyone, here’s what’s going on in my writing world and my real world. Let’s start with where we are right now, at my website.

The Clearwater Family

We are starting to build new pages. Have a look at the top menu, and you will see The Clearwater Family. You can click on that to find links to individual pages about the main characters in the Clearwater series. So far, we have interviews with Jasper, Thomas, Andrej and James, and more will come along in time. When they are published as a blog post, they will also be available under the family. So, if you have missed any chats with the characters, you can find them there. This is part of the ongoing project, ‘The Clearwater Companion.’

The Clearwater Inheritance

The news on Clearwater 10 is that I am almost at the end of the third draft, while Neil is almost at the end of his beta read. Proofing is booked in for May 25th, Anjela is working on the cover, and I am aiming for publication in early June.

There are no spoilers here, but already I have overheard Neil in the other room muttering things like, ‘You can’t do that!’ ‘Oh no!’ ‘Ha! I knew it!’ and other helpful/unhelpful asides. There are a few twists, a code, lots of history, an evil villain, and a certain amount of travel involved in this story, which is to be the longest of the Clearwater collection so far.

Flash Fiction

I have devoted my writing time to the Clearwater series for the last two years because it grabbed me, and I love writing it. But, during that time, I was also able to release The Students of Barrenmoor Ridge, and recently, I was invited to enter a flash fiction anthology competition. I’ve never written flash fiction before (I had to look up what it was), but I thought I’d have a go. The competition called for only 300 words which, to me, is more like a sentence – lol – rather, a couple of paragraphs, but I did my best. The very short story has a beginning, middle, end, something to do with gay/love, and is kind of in the required genre of mystery/sci-fi/fantasy. Oh, and it also had to be about ink, as if there weren’t enough constraints already. I won’t know the outcome for a while yet, but if it is not accepted into the anthology, I will post it here.

Meanwhile…

Meanwhile, here in Symi, Greece, we are at last allowed to go to the pub. Well, to the kafenion and the tavernas as we don’t have pubs.

Easter on Symi. Neil made the cake.

There are still restrictions in place, but they are easing ahead of the opening up for tourism date of May 15th. This could be an excellent thing for the economy, but not such a good thing for health; we will have to wait and see. If you want to know more about where I live and what we do on Symi, click the link for my five times per week blog from the island, Symi Dream.

Neil and I have had our first vaccination against ‘the thing’, and the second one is due next week. I had a couple of dodgy days after the first, with heavy cold/flu symptoms and a very painful arm, but you know what us writers are like, I just got on with it, and it passed.

At Rhodes Old Town with my godson

Also, a couple of weeks ago, I went to Rhodes for the first time in 13 months. In fact, it was my first time off our island since we came back from Canada last year. This trip was to start the process of proving I have the right to live in Greece now the UK has left the EU. Tedious, I know, and don’t get me started on Brexit. I am now waiting to go back to Rhodes to have a fingerprint taken as the second stage of my application to remain as a third-country national. Neil is still a European citizen because he has an Irish passport, lucky thing. We’ve been here nearly 19 years, had a business and all that, and I should have no trouble getting my new residency card. I hope!

Next

And now, I am four chapters away from the end of the latest draft of the Clearwater Inheritance, and so I must get on.

Yesterday’s sunrise seen from our roof

Neil has gone for a walk and a swim, as the temperature has been up to 30 degrees of late, but I am chained to the desk and deadline. I have been out for a few walks recently, and I need to do more to get rid of some of this lockdown lard. I’ve spent the last year at the desk, making models or watching endless TV series, with only a few strolls up and down the hills and not my usual five days per week schedule. Still, I’ve got lots written and a few models made.

Two of the horror figure models I have made during lockdown – and a photo of Neil created by Anjela in the Clearwater style

So, thanks for reading. Keep in touch and keep following the Facebook page, sharing things around and leaving reviews. I’ll be back next week with… something else to chat about.

 

 

 

Musical Cryptography: A Mystery Device

Musical Cryptography: A Mystery Device

A good mystery needs particular elements. Strong characters, motives, opportunities, means, deceptions, red herrings… There’s a long list. In all my mysteries, I also employ what I call a device. A plan, method, or trick with a particular aim, as the online dictionary defines its meaning. Without giving too much away about my Clearwater Mystery Series in case you’ve not read every book, I wanted to tell you about some of the devices I have used in this series and in my other novels.

A Mystery Device

When I talk about a device, I am referring to the thing that needs to be understood for the mystery to be unlocked and the ‘treasure’ found. That ‘treasure’ can be a murderer on the run, a kidnapping victim, the prevention of an assassination, anything. It is the particular aim of the investigating characters.

So far in this series and other books with a mystery or treasure hunt element, I have used murder sites to form a map, a poem to reveal a location, anagrams, the first draft of Dracula and the novel itself (The Stoker Connection), an oil painting, family history (The Blake Inheritance), rare books, unusual poisoning and, on more than one occasion, musical codes.

Here’s an aside. Years ago, when I first moved to Brighton, UK, I had an idea for a madcap mystery adventure concerning drag queens and opera singers. I never finished writing this one, but I spent hours working out the plot and the devices. The story hinged on a piece of coded music. Later, when I moved to Greece in 2002, I set about writing another mystery adventure comedy (I like my mashups), and in it, the device of a musical code. The story, Jason and the Sargonauts, was based on the original Jason and the Argonauts myth but concerned a group of elderly tourists coming to Symi on holiday and their young, gay rep. It is a mix of fiction and historical fact set in the present day and the past and concerns the search for The Golden Fleece. That’s not the original Golden Fleece, but something else, and the key to its whereabouts is hidden in a piece of music. This novel was written under my real name, James Collins, and you can find it here.

A Treatise On The Art Of Deciphering, And Of Writing In Cypher: With An Harmonic Alphabet (1772) by Philip Thicknesse

Wow, that’s a title and a half, but it is actually a real book. I now have a copy of it and dipped in and out of it when writing my current novel. It was written in 1772 and plays a part in the story. Naturally, I couldn’t let the name of the author go by without at least one character making a reference to Thicknesse. It is too good a word to turn down. (Inserts a wink emoji.)

Currently, I am working on the 10th book in the Clearwater Mystery series, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, and once again, I have used the device of a musical code. Or rather, a message hidden in a piece of music. It has always fascinated me – the thought that it might be possible to write a message into music that could only be understood by someone who investigated deeply enough, but there has always been the question, How?
How can you translate musical notes into the English language, create a message, and still make the music sound like music?

I shan’t tell you exactly how because that would spoil the story for you, and actually, it’s hard to do in text without bamboozling the non-music-reading reader and without showing images of a score while playing an audio track, but…

The current state of my notebook.

One of the simplest ways to do it would be to have each note represent one letter. Say you started on the note Middle-C, and every semitone going upwards was the next letter of the alphabet. Even if you’re non-musical, you might guess that the word AWAY, for example, would have the melody bouncing from bottom to top of the range in a very untuneful manner.

Then there’s the question of where to start? Who’s to say what note is A and what is Z? There are 88 notes on a modern piano keyboard, any one of which could be A with the consecutive alphabet running up or down. And how do you handle chords and harmonies?

As you might see, it’s a lovely idea but hard to explain, and for this reason, I researched musical codes to see if it was a viable device.

It is, and I am certainly not the first to have thought of it.

Musical Cryptograms

The B A C H motif

A musical cryptogram is a cryptogrammatic sequence of musical symbols, a sequence which can be taken to refer to an extra-musical text by some ‘logical’ relationship, usually between note names and letters. The most common and best known examples result from composers using ciphered versions of their own or their friends’ names as themes or motifs in their compositions. Much rarer is the use of music notation to encode messages for reasons of espionage or personal security. [Wiki]

There are two principal techniques, the German and the French. The most common musical cryptogram is the ‘B-A-C-H’ motif. JS Bach used this, but in the German-speaking world, the note B-flat was actually B, and B-natural was H, so he had more letters available. The French version is even more compliacted. I was interested to learn that several well-known composers have used a musical cryptogram, Bach, Schumann, Brahms, Ravel, Poulenc, Shostakovich and Elgar, among many others.

There is also a method of coding a message in music by way of patterns, where the shape of the phrase represents a letter. If you are interested, check out Atlas Obscura.
With so many possibilities to draw on, I eventually decided that to keep it simple was the best way forward, and so, I was delighted to find a quote that said, In its simplest form, the letters A through G can be used to spell out words or codes. [Ludwig Van Toronto.] I decided to limit myself to seven letters, the basic music notes as used in the English notation system. (Don’t get me started on do, re, me, fa, so, la, ti and the Solfège system of notation.) This naturally presented me with other challenges.

Limited Letters

Michael Haydn’s musical cipher of 1808

How to create a message using only seven letters? The starting place was an anagram solver and typing in A through to G to see what came up. Not a lot. So, bearing in mind that any of those seven letters can repeat as many times as necessary, I searched for anagrams made up from letters such as A and E (the only available vowels) plus DD, GG, F, CCC… and so on. Well, that took some time, but eventually threw up a list of words I could legitimately use.

After that, it was a case of putting the most useful ones in the right order and then building the answer to the riddle around them. I mean, there was no point the message reading ‘You will find it at the zoo’, because, from that sentence, I would only be able to use F D A E. But hang on… FDAE can be arranged to make FADE, and if I add another D, I can make FADED. What’s more, that doesn’t sound too bad if played as music. So, what something is made up of only the seven letters and might be faded? A faded DEAD… A faded DEAF… BED… DEED…

A DEED is a legal document, and an inheritance would be written into a legal document, a deed or, in this case, a fee tail, also called an entail, but still a DEED…

Finally

I’ll stop chatting there as I don’t want to give anything else away about what I am currently writing. All you need to know is that you’re in for a treat with the next Clearwater, and you don’t need to be a musician to understand the code. You can leave that to Jasper Blackwood…

Jasper Blackwood at work, 1890

By the way, The Clearwater Inheritance is currently going through its third draft, and I have booked it in for its final proofreading towards the end of May.

I have contacted Anjela about the cover and aim to have the novel released early in June. If you’ve not read Banyak & Fecks, you might want to slip that one in before the publication date because some of what happens in The Clearwater Inheritance relates to what happens in the prequel, Banyak & Fecks.

And now, back to 1890 and musical cryptography…

An Interview with Andrej: AKA, Fecker

Of all the characters in The Clearwater Mysteries, Andrej seems to be the readers’ favourite. I must admit, he is one of my favourite characters too, and yet he started out as someone entirely different. Today, instead of a formal interview with the character, I thought I would tell you more about him but ask him some questions along the way.

Andrej Borysko Yakiv Kolisnychenko

‘That is my name, and no-one can take that away from me.’

Andrej was born in a village called Serbka, in Ukraine, sometime between 1867 and 1869. It might have been a year earlier because he has never been told what year he was born. He knows it was at Easter, though, and when you read ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, you will learn a little more about his birth. His village is a real place, although I have never been there, and it is hard to find information about it online. There is a river called The Balai, and he grew up on its banks, the son of a farmer. His family was large, but most of his brothers and sisters were killed during ‘the troubles’, a fictional rebellion based on Russian invasions of the area and the internal and external wars that took place in the region over time.

Serbka Village, Odessa Oblast, Ukraine, 2014

One of the reasons Andrej is a favourite character is because he is something of an enigma. He has one of the deepest backstories of any character in the series (though the main seven all have detailed and complex histories), and yet, when I first envisioned him, he was nothing more than a sidekick.

Without giving too much away, here is how the character of Andrej developed.

Deviant Desire

When I set about writing what is now part one of a ten-part series (plus one prequel), it was a standalone love story between Silas Hawkins, a renter, and Viscount Clearwater (Archer). A classic, rags to riches story if you like. However, all main characters need a foil or a sidekick, and Silas’ was to be Andy, an Artful Dodger type character from the East End. As I wrote his first appearance, I realised that all I was doing was imitating Dodger, and what was the point of that? What would be more interesting? Knowing the Victorian East End was a melting pot of many nationalities, immigration and migrant workers, I thought, why not make Andy an immigrant? Perhaps a Russian… Or maybe, someone even more marginalised… A Ukrainian.

So, Andy became Andrej (the Ukrainian spelling), and he arrives in chapter one of Deviant Desire with a backstory and an existing relationship with Silas.

Andrej, how did you and Silas meet?
I was turning trick in alley because I need money, and this boy, he comes in for piss, and he not see me. Oi! I shout. Fuck off, is my place. Then boy sees that trick is going to stab Andrej, and he piss on man, and Andrej is saved. Then boy he run away, but Dolya, she tell me later that I must help this boy, so I go find him. He is near dead, so Andrej take him home. We are soon friends.

Andrej is quite capable of speaking fluent English but chooses not to. English uses too many words, so why bother? He uses Russian and Ukrainian village words in his speech too. Hence ‘Dolya’ is fate, and he never says yes or no, only Da and Nyet.

Twisted Tracks

I’d fallen for Andrej by the time I realised that Deviant Desire could not be a standalone novel and decided to keep him in the series. He doesn’t play a large part in Twisted Tracks, but he proves his loyalty to his friends, and that theme is the backbone of the entire series. Andrej personifies that theme more than any other character. In Twisted Tracks, he also comes to realise that Archer is ‘Geroy’, his village word for a noble man, as opposed to a nobleman. Andrej has nicknames for everyone and uses them because they remind him of a person’s character. Silas is Banyak, which has various meanings, but mainly, it is an idiot or cooking pot that contains all manner of things. James is Tato, which means ‘daddy’, Thomas is Bolshoydick, which means ‘large penis’ (because, apparently, it is true), and Jasper is Pianino because it means ‘little piano.’

Andrej, why does Silas call you ‘Fecker’?
Is easy. Is because I am handsome fecker. He says this with his Irish accent once, and again, and in the end, the name sticks. I not mind. I am good at fecking, but I not feck lady yet. Not until I am married.

Unspeakable Acts

Andrej appears little in book three, which is mainly led by Silas and James, but he is there, getting on with things and keeping an eye on his best friend, Banyak. After book three, I decided that we needed to know more about Andrej. At that time, I wasn’t too sure about Andrej’s past, so I asked him some more questions as I wrote book four.

Serbka, Ukraine

Andrej, what happened to your family? 

Is complicated and sad. My father (I not like him much), he was farmer and militia man. Dead. My first mother, she die when she gives us my sister, Daria. Daria, she and my second mother they disappear in the troubles. I don’t know if they are alive. My other sister, Alina, she was killed by Russians, also my brother Vladyslav. He die in war when he was near thirty. This leave only Danylo, and he go to war, and I not hear about him before I leave Ukraine. Now, I have Danylo back.

Fallen Splendour

Andrej’s backstory comes out during Fallen Splendour. At least, some of it does. Archer calls on him to assist in an investigation. While on their way and sleeping rough during a blizzard, he tells Archer some of his history. Later in the story, he proves himself more than loyal and determined to fight for his life. This involves cutting off three of his fingers. That’s the kind of man he is. During this time, he quietly falls in love with a kitchen maid, Lucy Roberts, and that relationship bubbles away in the background all through the series.

Inspiration for the drawing of Andrej (below).

So, Andrej, are you straight?
What is this ‘straight?’ I am man from Ukraine. I am strong. I farm, I ride horses, I learn tricks on horses in Circus with Ivo Zoran, and I am Master of Larkspur Horse. What is ‘straight? [I explain our modern terminology, and Andrej is mildly outraged.] What? You think I am queer like Banyak and others? Nyet. I have big, Ukraine koloty, and I need money, so I use this to make money, so I eat. Men, they like Andrej’s koloty, but I no like what I must do to make money, but I do it. This not make me queer. Don’t say that. You want me to get angry?

At six-foot-four and built like the proverbial brick shithouse, no-one wants to make Andrej angry, so we move on.

Bitter Bloodline

In book five, we explore Andrej’s relationship with James as they are tasked with rescuing the son of a famous writer. Again, Andrej proves himself loyal, straightforward, strong, and an expert horseman, and, by now in the series, we are also getting used to him injecting some humour.

Artful Deception

In book six, Andrej is again a background character, although a pillar; without him, the deception would not be possible. He does as he is asked, risks his life and suffers for it, but he is there, propping up the others in his quiet, steadfast way. This strength of character must come from somewhere, and I asked him where.

I don’t know. From the Balai, from the way Vlad he teach me the sword, and the way my father he teach me the horse and plough. I know what is right and what is wrong from early years, and when I see my village dying, and Blumkin and the others, they want to run and give themselves to Russians, I say, Nyet. This is not Andrej. I am thirteen years, I think. Maybe fourteen, I don’t know, but I do know I not stay and be killed by Russian. So, I walk.

I go to England which is richest country in world, and there, I make money to come home and look for sister and Danylo. Is long walk. Many troubles, but I meet kind mad with no eyes, and he gives me Banyak the horse, and she teach me loyalnist. [Loyalty.] Then, I fuck men for money and I find ship, and Makarov, and Captain, they help me and they teach me there are good people in world, and I should be one. All that, I think, all that make me how I am.

Home From Nowhere & One Of A Pair

Andrej is in books seven and eight, though they step away from what we are used to in the Clearwater world, and so, Andrej is in the backseat, rather than driving. Other characters get the leads, and we are introduced to two more main players, Jasper and Billy, the nephews of what is fast becoming the Clearwater family.

Andrej is featured on the cover of Fallen Splendour riding a charger.

Andrej, do you think of Clearwater and your friends as a family?
Da. We are friends, for sure, but because of how Geroy likes his house to be, we are more like family now. Geroy [Clearwater], he is like father because he is money and important man, and Thomas, he is like mother because he is bossy and always knows what is right. This makes Banyak [Silas] like the mistress, but that make me laugh, and Banyak is like brother with me now. Jimmy, he is also brother who looks after the boys, that’s Pianino and Vasily [Jasper and Billy], who are like nephews because they are young and naughty. Billy, he get in trouble with Thomas because he say words like ‘Bugger it, Me Lord’ and ‘Pig in shit’, and that make me laugh. Pianino is special, and needs Andrej to watch him, or he cry easily. This is because he is clever with music and did not have nice childhood. So, Andrej watches them all, and we are family.

By now in the series, I decided it was time we knew more about Andrej and Silas. They, after all, started us off in chapter one of Deviant Desire, and yet, their combined backstory had never been explained. How did they become such close friends?

Banyak & Fecks

I might have overindulged myself with this one, and popping a prequel into a series after eight books might seem a bit odd, but I wanted a break from the hardcore action of the first six books and the cosey mysteries of seven and eight. So, turned to the past.

Young Banyak (right) and Fecks taken in 1887

Banyak & Fecks is in four parts.
Part one gives us Andrej’s story from the moment he escapes the Russians. The first part of the book takes him from there to London and up to the point he meets Silas. The second part then flashes back to introduce us to Silas in the Westerpool (Wirral) slums, and we meet a very cheeky, confident young trickster who, when he comes to London, soon falls on hard times. Part three starts the moment Andrej and Silas meet, and their relationship evolves from there to part four. This is when Silas has got over his crush on Andrej. Andrej has ‘fallen in love’ with Silas though only platonically, and the two live together as a couple of besties. It is a classic bromance, only set in the Victorian slums of the East End. The book finishes a couple of days before Deviant Desire starts, during the reign of The East End Ripper (based on Jack the Ripper).

Negative Exposure

‘The White Ship’, home to Banyak & Fecks in 1887

Andrej plays a significant role in book nine. Things that happened in Banyak & Fecks come back to haunt Silas and potentially ruin everything Archer has built over the previous installments. You should read Banyak & Fecks before Negative Exposure to get the best from it, but it’s not 100% necessary. This story returns us to the previous action-adventure, platonic love, bromance themes of the earlier stories. As I wrote it, I was aware that book ten was on its way, and Negative Exposure runs directly into ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’

Andrej is in every story, there as a main player or in the background, and he is certainly in book ten. Or he will be when I finish it. He plays a major part in ‘the Clearwater Inheritance’, as you will see, and as this might be the last in the series as we know it, you may be in for some shocks.

I’ll finish by asking Andrej one more question.

A Ukrainian farmhouse, 19th century. Fecker’s home before it was destroyed.

Andrej, do you think you will ever return to Ukraine?
How I know this? I don’t know what Dolya has for me. I don’t know if my sister and second mother live, so how I know if I go back to look? I have Danylo and now… Now I have other news about Serbka and me when a boy. Now I have big decision to make because in Vienna I meet a man… Nyet. You not know this yet, so Andrej stay quiet. But I say this: my family is Clearwater now. Banyak, Jimmy, Pianino and Miss Lucy. I will marry Miss Lucy one day. She not know this yet, but I will tell her. So, maybe we go to Ukraine and I show her the Balai, but we not live there. Maybe I show her Vienna and… Maybe we stay at Larkspur where I am master of horse, and soon, we have little Feckers in the house. What happen next to Andrej? Only Dolya knows this.

[Actually, I know what happens next to the Clearwater crew, but you will have to wait for ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ to find out what that is. Currently, I am aiming for publication in June, maybe at the end of May.]

Why Do I Write a Blog?

Why Do I Write a Blog?

Today, I thought I’d take a step away from writing about my writing to write about my blogging. Blogging is, of course, another way of writing, so I suppose I am still writing about writing, only, in this case, I am writing about my blog writing. Rather, blogs, plural as I have two.

Let me start off by saying that I am writing this blog in the way that I approach most of my blogging and a great deal of my writing. Simply put, I am making it up as I go along. I tend to write from a stream of consciousness angle. Starting with an idea, in today’s case, a suggestion from my PA, Jenine, I sit at the PC with an empty page and start writing. I write what is on my mind and develop from there.

I also tend to do that when writing my books; start with an idea, imagine a scene, and then let it flow. In the case of novel writing, I then do a lot of editing work as I go over the first draft, and I also pop backwards and forwards through a manuscript while writing it to keep facts consistent and make sure I have remembered the clues correctly.

I take the same approach with blog writing, but the only editing I do is when I have finished. Then, I use a couple of writer tools to help keep me in check. Grammarly is one, and Pro Writing Aid is the other.

The danger of this unplanned approach is that I often drift from one point to the next and forget what I was talking about. Still, that’s how I blog, that’s how it goes, and that’s how this blog is going to go.

When Did Blogging Start?

You know me, I like to discover the derivations of words, and for that, I tend to use the online dictionary by typing, for example, ‘Blog derivation’ or ‘Blog meaning’ in a search string and finding the dictionary page for that word. [See the image.]

Blog, the noun, is a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.

To blog, the verb, is to add new material to or regularly update a blog.

Blog, the word, derives as a truncation of the word Weblog, or web-log, I guess, rather than ‘we blog’, and it’s been around since 1900.

Except it hasn’t.

One of the functions of that online dictionary is showing you where a word was first recorded in print, and I use that part of it a great deal. When writing the Clearwater books set in the late 19th century, for example, I often pause after writing a word and think, ‘Did that word exist then?’ A quick check will tell me when it first appeared in print, and although that’s not 100% accurate as a guide to spoken usage, it’s a help. Only this week, I paused after writing the word ‘paperwork’ and wondered if a solicitor in 1890 would use such a word? The answer? No. That word didn’t start to appear in print until the 1940s, so I changed it to documentation.

As for ‘blog’, I was surprised to find that my online resource suggested it was in use between 1910 and 1940. If you look at the image (left), the graph, you can see there’s a bump at that time, before the word took off in the late 1990s. I checked that out via Google Books, and it turned out that the source of this unlikely information was a misprint. Rather, a miss-read by some computerised scanner. The word it was reading was an abbreviation of Building, printed as BLDG in various directories, and the scanner was mistaking the D for an O.

The lesson? Always double-check your research.

What Do I Get Out of a blog?

Well, for a start, I didn’t realise ‘documentation’ wasn’t in use in 1890 either. Not until I started talking about it just now and went to check. I’d used it in yesterday’s first draft of a Clearwater chapter, thinking ‘It must be okay’, and was going to leave it there. Now, when I return to that chapter, I will change it to ‘documents’ because ‘documentation’ wasn’t used until the 20th century. You see? Blogging helps my work.

It also gives me a legitimate reason to ramble on like I am doing now, sometimes get things off my chest, and, at other times, publicise my latest book. I always hope it brings me closer to my readers and them closer to me. That is why I prefer this freestyle, stream of consciousness approach.

Paid to Blog?

I have been, and let me tell you, it can be arduous and soul-destroying. A few years ago, I fell upon a travel site that wanted stories for their posts based on personal travel experiences. Wonderful, I thought. I’ve been to a few places, I’ll chat about them. Simple.

Not.

These kinds of sites need you to be SEO targeted and keyword rich (I loath such jargon). They needed you to include keywords in H Tags, and upload images with no ALT text, hit a particular word count, supply your own images, and stick to stringent guidelines while being creative. Woe betides anyone who falls foul of this creative cagery.

Cagery being a word I just invented. I think. (He makes a quick check online. Did you mean Calgary? No, I didn’t. Checks real dictionary and discovers ‘cage’ comes between caftan and cagoule, which is an interesting costume challenge, but the word cagery doesn’t exist, not even in the sense of ‘constraint’, which is what I meant.)

I think my point here is that these ‘earn a fortune by blogging’ websites are only suitable for those who can churn out the required words within strict rules, and I’m not one of them. I did do it, for a while at least, but it was too structured for me, and I was only being paid $40.00 for what turned out to be about six hours’ work for 600 words. I’d rather write a novel of 90,000 words and be paid nothing for my time than 600 words to someone else’s formula.

But, yes, it is possible to make money out of blogging. I used to have Google Adsense  links where a programme adds adverts to your pages and if anyone clicks on one, you get $0.0002, or something, but another pet hate of mine are blogs and sites that are advert-stuffed, so that get rich quick scheme didn’t last long.

Any money I make from my two blogs comes from the sales of my own books generated from my own links and publicity.

My Blogs Are My Conversation

Me outside a cafe

I think that’s obvious from the way I am rambling on as if you and I were sat outside a café having a chat, I’d had a glass of wine, and my usual staid and quiet tongue was well loosened. I use these pages to chat to you, and thus, myself, and often, in doing so, ideas spring to mind. Sometimes, I put up a less chatty, more planned blog, and although this process takes more time, it often offers more help in developing my books. For example, last October, while writing ‘Banyak & Fecks’, I undertook a lot of research into Male Sex Workers in Victorian London, the ways of the workhouse and the poverty of the East End in the 1880s. These subjects formed the background to the story (and others in the series). I decided to blog about that research, and in doing so, had to examine documents and, thus, discover extra facts, which then went into the novel. So, blogging about novel writing can feed into that writing, and vice versa.

Writing a blog also helps me think about the stories and the characters. I’ve done a couple of interviews with characters, one A Character Interview With James Wright, you can find if you follow that link. James is one of the central characters in the Clearwater series, and in answering questions set by Jenine, I had to think deeper than what comes out of my head, and that helped develop a deeper understanding of the man I was creating.

As Jenine put in the list of ideas she sent me for this post, I could also mention that writing a regular blog ‘Allows your PA to boss you around.’ That’s a good thing for both of us, because it stops me from being lazy, and it makes her feel like she’s doing something useful.

I hope you have gathered by now that I also like to put humour into my blogging.

I also put an awful lot of typos because I write as I think, and even my editing software doesn’t pick up everything. For example, before I changed it, the above sentence read, ‘I also like to put hummus into my blogging’, and on more than one occasion, I have written things like, ‘You must see this bog’, and ‘The main character is a cuntess.’ (I now have a heap of personalised corrections in Word auto-correct.)

And As For The Other Blog?

I have been mentioning my two blogs, this being one of them. The other, I have had on the go since about 2005. It started out as a website where I could publicise my husband’s photo shop on the Greek island of Symi. Later, it developed into a site where I could also talk about the books I was writing about living on a Greek island. Later still, when we closed the shop, I continued the blog because it had gained a huge following, and my mother liked to know what I was up to. It went from being a once-a-month update to a weekly one to a seven day a week chat and is now a five day per week chat about me, my life, my writing and day to day living on a Greek island. I also sound off about Brexit and ruffle a few feathers from time to time, and Neil and I post photos five times per week.

So, if you can stand this kind of ‘train of thought’ style, want to know what I, personally and as James, my real name, is up to here on Symi, Greece, then bookmark Symi Dream (symidream.com) where you can find me chatting about everything and nothing.

Blog Off

And so, thank you for listening to me thus far. I am going now, as I must turn my attention back to Clearwater 10, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, which is now up to a worrying 120,000 words in 1st draft form and still not reached its climax. This may well turn out to be a story in two parts. Either that, or I will have to chop out many interesting and fun scenes that are not 100% on-story, but which do contain elements of the mystery, and rework the whole thing. If I do, I may then publish the cut scenes separately or give them away for free in my newsletter, and if I do that, then I will make sure that I have not cut out any necessary plot points or clues.

Maybe I’ll just treat everyone to a very long Clearwater, like a Downton Abbey Christmas special and have done with it.

One thing’s for sure. As the writing of the book and its publication continue, I will be blogging about it.

Developing a Series

My Two Year Journey Through The Clearwater World

Just over two years ago, I decided to write a standalone book taking the premise: ‘What if Jack the Ripper had killed male prostitutes?’ I wanted it to have elements of mystery and romance, but essentially, to be a thriller. By the time I had finished the first draft of ‘Deviant Desire’, I had realised that the story was unfinished because ‘Jack’ was never caught. Therefore, I thought I should write a sequel, and the premise there would be, ‘Why did the killings suddenly stop?’ So, I started on ‘Twisted Tracks’, and as I was writing that, I realised I had created a group of characters and a world that cried out to be an ongoing series. Two years later, there are nine mystery books in the series, one non-mystery prequel, and I am working on book ten.

Today, I thought it would be interesting to look back over the journey from Deviant Desire to the present day and see the development of The Clearwater Mysteries.

(If you click on the photos you will open up the blog posts from along the way).


Deviant Desire, Book One

March 8th, 2019

First book in the series published

 

The standalone story was ready to go to publication. I had completed the book, found a cover designer, Andjela K, and a proof-reader, Anne Attwood, and had managed the layout of the book myself. Deviant Desire was published, and although I didn’t know at the time, it was to become my top-selling title and the first in a popular series. I’d hit a nerve, or tapped a seam, or stirred imagination or something, and because I thought it was the best book I’d written so far, I was more than pleased.

Other Worlds

As well as creating the characters and the mystery plot, I also developed a world. I incorporate fact with fiction in my historical mysteries, but I change the original world because I need to take liberties and use artistic licence. For example, Whitechapel becomes Greychurch in my imaginary London, although descriptions of the place are based on authentic sources.

Other Worlds Ink took me on a book tour

As I was writing book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’, I decided that I could do with some help with publicity, and so I turned to Other Worlds Ink to arrange a blog tour for me. This ran from April 29th to May 12th, 2019, and was the first such tour I had undertaken.

One of the guest posts they arranged for me can be seen on MM Good Book Reviews and was published on May 4th.

Twisted Tracks, Book Two

May 2019

Deviant Desire was now building momentum and selling well. Reviews were coming in, and they were, at first, a little mixed. I must admit that one was scathing, but when I read it, I realised that it was probably written by someone who was livid because they’d not thought of the idea themselves. They gave away some of the plot twists (which is unforgivable in a review), and other plot points they mentioned were inaccurate. I wasn’t daunted, however, and book sales were better than any of my other novels, and so I pressed on.

Book Two saw the momentum continue

 

The publication of Twisted Tracks coincided with the book tour, which helped sales enormously. Readers who enjoyed book one could instantly move on to the ‘to be continued’ story in book two and Twisted started to pick up sales, readers and reviews from the week of its publication.

 

Unspeakable Acts, Book Three

Book Three sees the Viscount launching his foundation to help the street boys of the East End

Come June of that year, I decided that I needed to leave the Ripper element aside (at least for now), and turn my attention to what else was going on in Victorian London in 1888. Researching the life and work of Victorian rent boys threw up little, as it is not a much-discussed topic, but I had previously read about a scandal that involved a male brothel in Cleveland Street in 1889, and had that at the back of my mind as a setting for one of the future Clearwater Books. However, I couldn’t wait until 1889. I invented my own potential scandal based in my world and employed a male brothel in Cleaver Street.

The Royal Opera House, London, one of the settings for ‘Unspeakable Acts’

Another of my areas of fascination is the theatre. So, I combined the Cleveland Street scandal (my version), the Royal Opera House (factual) and an imaginary opera into book three, Unspeakable Acts, and this was published in early June.

The series was building momentum, and I knew that I was on a roll, but what next?

 

A writing retreat

June 2019

Tilos – the perfect writers’ retreat

Not being a great fan of writers’ workshops and getaways where strangers pick apart each other’s work and someone tells you how you should write, I don’t go on group retreats. However, that year, I decided I could do with some solo time to work on the next book. I found myself an apartment on an island near ours, an island called Tilos, and booked myself a week of solitude. Tilos is home to only 200 people, and it offers peace, quiet, a village square for evening relaxation and plenty of solo-time walking and ‘chilling.’ I went there in June 2019 armed with my laptop and a book of Tennyson poems.

Fallen Splendour, Book Four

Book four and the feeling that maybe that was the end

I had so much invested in my characters by now, I wasn’t worried about books sales. It was what was going on in the lives of my Clearwater crew (as a fan named them) that was important, and the series had gathered so much momentum, it was hard to conceive it would ever finish. I sat down at my keyboard in my rented apartment overlooking the sea and laid out my tools for part four. A kidnapping, a coded message, and a race to rescue the victim. Simple, but tied up with a poem by Tennyson.

I wrote 35,000 words in the five days I was on Tilos, and work continued when I returned home to Symi. Andjela came up with another perfect cover, and Fallen Splendour was released on June 15th.

 

It was hard to think that this might be the last book. There is the feeling with the last chapter that suggests the series is ending, and, if it were a film, the camera would pull away from the five main characters looking down over the splendour of Larkspur Hall at Christmas as we fade out…. Cut.

But…

An interlude

Autumn 2019

I needed to return to my other series, The Saddling series (by James Collins, my real name), because it should have four parts, and I’d only written three. I tried to leave Clearwater alone and work on part four of Saddling, but after plotting, researching and putting together 40,000 words, I realised that what I was doing was transporting some Clearwater elements into Saddling, and they are two completely different worlds. The message-to-self here was that I needed to continue Clearwater. I wasn’t done with it yet. I was having too much fun. I’d covered the Ripper, the Cleveland Street scandal, Opera, Tennyson, kidnapping, coded messages, train crashes, what else was there?

There was Larkspur Hall.

Bitter Bloodline, Book Five

So far, Clearwater had existed mainly in London, but the Viscount also owns a massive country house with 16 bedrooms, a tower, a ruined abbey, a village and everything else that went with great stately homes of the past. I was also hooked on the idea of involving real people, and so, Bitter Bloodline (which has a bit of a Dracula influence without the vampires) was created to showcase Bram Stoker, Henry Irving and others.

Book five is published

So, during the latter part of 2019, I worked on Bitter Bloodline, broke into the Lyceum theatre, researched poisons and how the Borgia’s managed to poison dinner guests (not that the Borgia’s were in the story), planned a rough landscape of Larkspur, bought an OS map of Bodmin Moor, where the house is, and learnt a fair amount about Transylvanian wine. Bitter Bloodline was published in early November 2019.

That’s five books in only eight months. Five very successful books, I should add, and full length at an average of 95,000 words each. Clearwater was taking over my life.

Into 2020

And now we take a siding because, while I was writing approximately half a million words into five books, I had also retired. Rather, semi-retired on a private pension scheme from years ago which allowed me to take a holiday of a lifetime.

The Royal Opera House, part of our whirlwind stay in London

As Neil and I left Symi in March 2020, rumours were spreading that due to covid-19, towns and cities might have to close down, and the world was in for a pandemic. We had booked a trip to Canada and had been looking forward to it for 14 months. It didn’t feel like the best time to travel, but at the same time, our insurance wouldn’t cover us if we cancelled.

We went via Athens and London, where I could visit some of the Clearwater scenes, the Lyceum theatre, for example, and the National Gallery where book six’s opening was to be set. We had a fantastic time crossing Canada by train, but by the time we reached Vancouver, the epidemic had become a pandemic, and all those places we’d seen had closed behind us. We were among the last to have dinner atop the CN Tower, we were on the last cross-Canada excursion train, on one of the last flights out of Vancouver, and had an adventure of our own trying to get home that was worthy of Clearwater himself.

 

Artful Deception, Book Six

May 2020

Book six released

But reach home we did, and it was straight back to work for me. Book Six in the series, Artful Deception, was released on May 30th, 2020. I wanted this one to finally finish off the Ripper story of books one and two, and again, there was a feeling that it would be the last in the series. I wrote it, released it, and that was, in a way, that. I don’t know why I didn’t give it the same attention as the others, I think my mind was on what to write next, but it didn’t matter. The series had picked up so much momentum, it had a life of its own, but I wanted to write something… calmer.

Home From Nowhere, Book Seven

August 2020

Full of more historical research and one of my favourite subjects, music

This story grew out of a character we briefly met in Artful Deception – a hall boy working for the evil Earl Kingsclere. What would it have been like, I wondered, to be a young man of 17 trapped in the world of working below stairs with no hope of going anywhere? What would happen if that young man had an incredible talent from birth? How could this be a mystery? Not only did I want a cosy, not too tense mystery, I also wanted a love story.

Clearwater exists in the world of Victorian Britain when to be gay meant disgrace and imprisonment, and that is the confine of everyone in my world; all the gay characters, I mean – and most of the leading players are gay. For the mystery, I once again turned to music and real people. For the love story, I turned to two opposing characters: a cheeky, rough-diamond Cockney, Billy Barnett, and a mild-mannered slightly ‘on the spectrum,’ hall boy, Jasper Blackwood. (The name came first, and as I wanted him to be a dichotomy, I gave him a name you might expect of a Penny Dreadful villain.)

Passionate about the research and the details of historical fiction

There is a lot of historical fact in the background of Home From Nowhere, particularly around who the parents turn out to be. By now, my reference bookshelves were bulging with all the books I’d bought to inform my Clearwater world.

I think Home From Nowhere has received more praise and more five stars than any of the other books to date, and Jasper and Billy are currently playing significant parts in book ten, which is still being written.

One of a Pair, Book Eight

And still, the momentum continued. We are into August 2020 now, and as it is the month of my brother’s birthday, and as he was a chemist before he retired, I innocently asked him about unusual poisons, as you do. He gave me the idea for the slightly unlikely but completely possible twist I needed to make One of a Pair work, and once I had that the rest of the mystery more or less wrote itself. My scatter-brained character, Doctor Markland, appears in this book by popular demand, there was much research to do on chemicals and train travel, and this, like Fallen Splendour, was a book that more or less wrote itself.

Book eight released

It also competed the love story begun in Home From Nowhere and is another ‘cosy’ mystery, though with a little more tension.

A cover note: One of a Pair was also the first time I have found a photo of a character and based the character’s description around the image. Usually, it’s the other way around. Jasper Blackwood appears on the cover.

 

 

Looking forward to the past

We are up to September 2020, and I am in a more literary mood.

Slumming, just one of the subjects researched for the series

I wanted to try a book that was not reliant on a complicated, twisting mystery plot. I also wanted to know more about the two characters who began the series, Silas Hawkins and Andrej Kolisnychenko. Or, as they are known to each other through nicknames, Banyak and Fecker (Fecks). Silas is the son of an Irish immigrant, Fecker is a Ukrainian refugee. They met in 1884, lived together as friends, and worked together as renters, but when we meet them in Deviant Desire, they already have a strong bond that you might these days call a bromance. Fecker is straight, Silas is gay, and nothing happens between them sexually (not these days), yet they love each other.

So, I thought, how did that all come about?

Banyak & Fecks, The Prequel

November 2020

The prequel

That’s how Banyak & Fecks was born, and it is probably the most researched book in the series. It’s a prequel, and by the time One of a Pair (book eight) came out, Banyak & Fecks was already in the first draft stage. By now, my assistant Jenine was on board and doing all kinds of magical things to boost sales and develop my website and reputation. That’s why we now have interviews with other writers, more in-depth articles like this one, cover reveals and competitions. She keeps busy while I write books.

But for all that, I wasn’t sure where to go next. I wanted the series to continue because I didn’t feel like I was quite done with it yet, and I didn’t want to say goodbye to my characters. But was it running out of steam?

Apparently not.

November 2020

During 2020, apart from travelling across Canada and narrowly avoiding a pandemic, I had also started on a Clearwater mystery titled ‘Men of a Similar Heart.’ This involved a murder at a boarding school in 1877, and I reached the 60k word mark relatively quickly. Then, it did run out of steam and was going nowhere. I had four different openings of the story, but none of them fitted. I had some great characters, but I had seven main characters and loads of secondary ones by now. There were subplots of forbidden longing between my main couples, Silas and Archer, James and Thomas, but because I’d stepped away from 1889 and gone back in time, something was getting in my way…

Negative Exposure, Book Nine

erotic photography paved the way for book nine

It turned out to be pornography. Well, erotic photographs of the past.

There is an incident in Banyak & Fecks that moves the Andrej/Silas relationship forward. I hit upon the idea that this incident from 1886 might come back to haunt Silas in 1889, and that’s how Negative Exposure came about. Once I realised that was where the story was going, it was easy to write, and while I was writing it, I became aware that a new series was now waiting in the wings.

However, before I can get to that, I need to finish the Clearwater collection, and book nine, Negative Exposure, lays the groundwork for the plot of book ten and plants the seed for the next series.

Onwards to the Beginning 

Book nine with a new cover concept

 Negative Exposure was released in February 2021, 20 months after releasing Deviant Desire, and brought the series up to just under one-million words in total. (I have been through four keyboards in that time.) The story is more akin to the earlier ones, with a mystery leading to a deadline and a chase. It is tenser than the likes of Home From Nowhere and ends with the crew gathering for Christmas at Larkspur Hall, as they do at the end of Fallen Splendour. However, it also ends on a twist that I only decided upon when writing the penultimate chapter. It was one of those ‘light bulb’ moments, and as soon as I wrote the last line, I thought, ‘Oh bugger. How do I get myself out of that?’

The Clearwater Inheritance, Book Ten

January 2021

Manchester Weekly Times and Examiner, 11 Jan 1890, Sat Page 2

Book ten will pick up where book nine left off. What Lord Clearwater said in his last speech means it has to (damn the man!), so, as I write, I am researching all manner of things from European train travel in 1890 to personal telegraph systems, legal entails and inheritance law of the 19th century. I have several scenes plotted, some including a selection of my favourite characters from the past. I am referencing people and events from ten previous books while getting to grips with the imaginary Larkspur Hall layout and its 50 + rooms. I am also making parallels with today’s pandemic, as there was one ravaging the world in January 1890, and all the time, laying more groundwork for the series that will follow.

For this, the future of Clearwater, I have decided that my Clearwater characters will still exist and appear but will be the background to a set of new people and others who we might already know who will play larger parts in a slightly different series. I can’t say much more than that right now because this is still very much in the planning stage, and, speaking honestly, I am not 100% sure how it will start or where it will go. But it’s there somewhere in the recesses of my imagination and only needs some kind of deviant desire on my part to bring it out.

It has been two years since I wrote the first line of what was meant to be a standalone romantic thriller; Silas Hawkins was searching for coins in an East End gutter when a man four miles distant and ten years older sealed his fate. I didn’t know it then, but young Mr Hawkins had sealed my fate, at least for the time being.

The Clearwater Series, available from Amazon on Kindle or paperback