Christmas Parties & Celebrations

Hello, everyone

Today’s blog is all about celebrations, parties, freebies and award nominations. There is a lot taking place in the run up to Christmas, all of it exciting, and I’ve set out all the details below. It starts with an online party in a popular Facebook group…

This Sunday there is a massive party over on the MM Fiction Addiction Cafe Facebook page. Over 100 authors will be dropping in throughout the day introducing themselves and holding quizzes and games. It promises to be a riot of freebies and festive frivolity. I will be joining in the celebrations and it would be great to see you there! The party will take place between 9am and 9pm Eastern Time, which is 4pm – 4am in Greece, 2pm – 2am in the UK (I think?!).

Followed by…..

The Small But Mighty MM Romance Group are halfway through their 12 Tropes of Christmas Celebrations. On Tuesday look out for #AgeGap where yours truly will be dropping in to showcase my Mentor Series. Come along and join the fun for a chance to win two books of your choice from the series.

Meanwhile, on my own Facebook page I am still running my advent ‘name the book’ competition.

Every day a new question and all correct answers will be put into my husband’s steampunk hat on Boxing Day and my godson will draw the winner. And now I can reveal that the grand prize will be…wait for it

ddrrrrrrrrrrrrr……..

your choice of a mousemat or mug featuring The Clearwater Book covers. Yes, I thought it was time we try out some merchandising so we have been playing on various websites and trying out some mock-ups. Whoever wins we will personally create your prize and ship it off to you in the New Year.


And if you still have some free time after all those shenanigans please head over to Goodreads where you can vote for your favourite MM Romance authors of 2022. I have been nominated for a number of awards, a huge thank you to those who voted so far! I am listed amongst some of the top names which in itself is a great honour.

BEST COVER ART

First up we have ‘Best Cover Art’…it is fantastic to see Andjela K nominated, without her my books would just not have the same visual impact. Click the link to place your vote https://www.goodreads.com/…/258430-best-cover-art-you…

BEST ESTABLISHED COUPLE

Joe and Dalston are nominated in this category. This gives me great joy, I absolutely loved creating these two characters and their relationship really did bring out pure emotion in my writing. I couldn’t have done it without learning British Sign Language, I feel that took my journey with these two young men to a different level. Here’s the link to vote https://www.goodreads.com/…/258374-best-established…

BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

This nomination is a big WOW, ‘Speaking In Silence’ is up there amongst some big names, a great honour. To place your vote follow the link https://www.goodreads.com/…/258367-best-book-of-the…

ALL-TIME FAVOURITE M/M SERIES

Both The Clearwater and The Larkspur Series have been nominated for The Best Series Category (I suggest we all vote for Clearwater to gain more collective votes)

Click the link to vote https://www.goodreads.com/…/258336-all-time-favorite-m…

ALL-TIME FAVOURITE MM ROMANCE

Deviant Desire remains my best-selling book to date, it is so good to see it here as a nominee. Silas and Archer’s relationship started as an ‘insta-love’ but their lives together continue to be exciting and passionate, I have loved telling their story. If you would like to vote for them hit the link https://www.goodreads.com/…/258377-all-time-favorite-m…

ALL-TIME FAVOURITE M/M AUTHOR

Yes! I have made the nominee list, thank you, thank you! Here’s the link to vote fave author

You need to be a group member of the MM Romance group, if you need the link to sign up, here it is

https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/20149-m-m-romance

It takes 24 hours to approve your request and be sure to put your date of birth on the sign-up.

Thank you everyone!

After all this excitement, I could do with a lie down, but the truth is, I have left my Larkspur Academy men in something of a predicament, so I had better go and write another chapter of ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ before they get tired of waiting. A proper update will be on Wednesday’s blog.

Character Interview: Silas Hawkins

Silas Hawkins is one of two main characters in the prequel to the Clearwater Mysteries, ‘Banyak & Fecks.’ This novel, written after book seven in that series, but coming in date order before the first, tells the story of how Silas met the first real love of his life, Andrej Kolisnychenko (Fecker or Fecks to his friends). Their love was destined to be platonic but has remained strong through both the Clearwater and Larkspur series, and Silas features in the latest Larkspur instalment, ‘Starting with Secrets’ and will be a main player in the last of the Larkspur books, ‘The Larkspur Legacy.’

Silas appears on five of the Clearwater Mysteries book covers. Banyak & Fecks, Deviant Desire, Twisted Tracks (running for a train in silhouette), Unspeakable Acts, and is represented on the cover of Negative Exposure.

It struck me that we had never had an in-depth interview with the trickster, mimic, petty criminal and love of Lord Clearwater’s life, so I called him into the interview room for a debrief, and here is what transpired.

Silas Hawkins

Born:               October 21st, 1868.

Place:              Canter Wharf, Westerpool (The Wirral), England

Nationality:    Conceived in Ireland, born in England, but staunchly Irish.

What is your full name? Do you have a nickname?

Silas Hawkins. That’s it. I was named after the priest who slapped me arse when I was born without breath and got me life started. Father Patrick was called Silas before he took holy orders. And aye, I do have a nickname. Me best man, Andrej, calls me Banyak. It’s a word from his village in Ukraine where it means ‘cooking pot.’ He says I got so much boiling in me, I’m like a peasant stew. He’s a one to talk. I call him Fecker, on account of him being a handsome fecker who’s hung like one of them horses he’s mad about.

Where and when were you born?

I were slapped into life in a doorless slum in what they now call the Wirral, on the wrong side of the river to Liverpool, in a place called Westerpool. Our row of tenements was called Canter Wharf, but I forget the number now. Me mam was doing well just then, so we only had a few of us sharing the room, and we had glass in the window. Some of the time, at least.

Who were your parents?

Me mam’s me mam, least she were until she died in 1884, leaving me to the mercy of Cousin Rose, the drunken whore, and leaving me to mind me two half-sisters. Me da’, I never knew, as he put me in me mam back in Ballymum and fecked off before she came to England.

Me mam’s old boyfriend, Billy O’Hara, was more of a da’ to me than anyone though. He’d come by, sing me to sleep when I was little, and ended up being me half-sisters’ father. Strange thing was, he also ended up being my mate Jake’s da’, so Jake and the twins are halves, and me and the twins are halves, and that makes me and Jake like brothers, even though we’re not. Anyway, when I took up renting, I also took up Billy O’Hara’s name for a while. He’d not have liked that, but it was the first name to come to mind.

Where do you live now?

Ach, well ain’t you a nosey cur? I live some a the time in London with Archer at Clearwater House in what’s now known as Knightsbridge. Other times, I’m down at Larkspur, his estate near Bodmin in Cornwall. Most of the time I’m in town, because I work with Jimmy Wright more than Archer these days, and we have an investigation business to run.

What are your hair colour and eye colour?

I’m what they call ‘black Irish’ on account I have black hair and blue eyes. Can you not see? You’re sitting right in front of me you culchie eejit.

What do you miss most from your childhood?

Aye, well that’d be me mam. She was a strong woman, leaving Ireland because she fell pregnant and refused to name me father, walked to the coast, got herself on a ship, started a life on her own, carrying me, worked her fingers down, birthed me, and still attended mass. Then, from when I was five, she had to put up with me thieving and me ways, then bore the twins, and all the time putting up with Cousin Rose and the other drunken culchies of Canter Wharf. Got carried off with the sweating sickness when I was sixteen. When she died, I promised her I’d get her a good, stone headstone and sure enough, five years later, I did. That was the last time I went back to her, but she’s with her God and keeping an eye.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

You didn’t have aspirations in Canter Wharf. If you were a little’un, you went up the chimneys. If you were a bigg’un, you worked in the docks, if you could get any work at all. Me? I didn’t want to be anything. All I wanted was to have money in me pocket, and I didn’t care if it came from someone else’s. Came to London in 1884, and soon saw there were more ways of earning a coin than dipping a pocket, and more exciting ways too. Now, at 23, I’m happy where I am. Living with Archer, working with Jimmy, and using me old Westerpool skills of mimicry and trickery when I need them.

What do you consider the most important event of your life so far?

Ach, there’s many: Leaving Westerpool, meeting Mickey the Nick in London and learning his ways, the adventures with Archer and the crew, being shot… But the two that stand out the most?

In date order, first would be meeting Fecks. I was down on me luck and very near out of me life when all I had was water from the borough pump and what I could find in the trough. I stumbled into this court in the Greychurch back alleys to take a leak and let it go over a man chewing on Fecks’ massive… Well, you don’t need to know the details, but I remember finding this massive, blonde statue of a man with his pants down, and I ran away. Then, next thing I remember, he’d taken me in and brought me back from the edge of death. So, that was important.

Second would be when Tommy Payne brought me to Clearwater House because his boss wanted to interview a genuine renter from the streets. There was cash and food in it, and I was waiting in “His Lordship’s” servants’ hall, getting Tommy wound up, when the most gorgeous man I’d never imagined came down the stairs and looked at me. I tell ya, I nearly emptied me happy sacks there and then. Something shifted, you know? Like me mam’s voice in me head said, ‘This is what you have been looking for, Silas Hawkins. This was meant to be.’ She was right.

Archer, the love of his life

Do you have any scars?

I’ve a fair few. I got one on me chin in the exact same place Archer has one. He got his from a swordfight with his brother, I got mine from the Ripper’s knife. Then there’s the bullet wound in me shoulder, and a few scars on me shins from burgling that went wrong, and a couple on me heart for friends and me mam who’ve died.

What is your biggest secret? Does anyone else know about this?

I’m a private investigator, man, of course I’ve got secrets. I was a renter, so there’s a fair few there, I can tell you, and I’ve not exactly stayed on the right side of the law since I was five, but I’m not going to give you details. Aye, I’ve got a few secrets, but in my line of work, it’s best to keep them where they are. But… I do have one big secret that no-one knows, not even Fecks, not even Archer.

Oh, no… Wait. One man does now because I had to ask his advice on it. Professor Fleet at the Larkspur Academy is the only man who knows what I’m planning, but he’s not going to say anything, and besides, everyone will know it soon enough.

If you could change one thing in your life what would it be?

I’d have me mam back, she’d be living in a decent house, and the twins with her, and none of them would be servants. Mind you, Iona and Karan like where they are, they’ve got friends, they’re well paid, and Mrs Kevern treats them good.

Other than that, I’d like Archer not to be so worried all the time, but that’s temporary. Kingsclere is trying to discredit him in the newspapers at the moment, but I’ve a plan to put a stop to that one way or the other.

What is your most treasured possession?

Well, that’s a long story. It’s a small black and white pebble that came from a river in Ukraine. It is a piece of Fecker’s homeland, and he brought it with him when he fled the Russians. That and his grandfather’s dagger was all he owned when we met in London, and once the Ripper started on his rounds, and we was fearing for our lives, he gave it to me to prove he loved me – as a friend, but that’s enough.

What three words would others probably use to describe you?

Sexy little fucker. Thieving little bastard. Loyal best friend. Dirty whore-pipe scum… Take your pick, I’ve been called them all.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Right where I am now. Loving Archer, working with Jimmy, making the most of life, dodging the law, and still never having got on a horse. They’re beasts and should be banned. Who knows where we’ll be in five months, let alone five fecking years? I should have been dead years ago, and would have been if it weren’t for Fecks. I can say the same about Jimmy who caught me when I nearly fell eighty feet into an opera. So, I’d like to be where I am with all me mates around me, waking up in Archer’s bed and happy. That’s only me and Archer waking up in his bed, not me and all me mates… Ach, you know what I mean.

What do you have in your pocket?

Er… Me black and white pebble, a set of lockpicks, fifty pounds and a receipt from a jeweller in Bond Street, which reminds me… I’ve an appointment, so if you’re done with your nosing, I’ll be about me business. Oh, and you’d best not print any of this.

The Clearwater and Larkspur Character Illustrations

This week, I took delivery of the illustration that will go at the beginning of ‘Starting with Secrets.’ Since beginning the Larkspur Mysteries series, I have added an illustration at the start of each book because… Well, I’m not sure. When I published ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ I had someone draw me a map of Europe showing the route of the Orient Express, because I thought it would be fun for readers to follow the journey. Previously, I’d engaged an artist to draw some of my characters from photos and add some Victoriana, such as the correct costume. I was doing this for a book I am still considering, ‘The Clearwater Companion, and I’ll tell you about that another time.

What I thought I would do today is put up the collection so far: the collection of illustrations which have been drawn by an artist who lives in India and has a company called DazzlingDezigns. If you click on that link, you will see her page on Fiverr, which is where I was lucky enough to find her. I’ve not been able to commission every main character (and let’s face it, there are a lot of them!), but here, in no particular order, are those who have so far made it into the gallery. There are also a couple of other illustrations which have been used in the Larkspur books and for the cover of ‘Banyak & Fecks.’

You can find all my books on my Amazon page

The Clearwater Mysteries start here

The Larkspur Mysteries start here

I’ll be back on Wednesday with an exciting update about ‘Starting with Secrets.’

A Discussion with a Butler

An Interview with Charles Tripp

October 1888, The Lamb and Compass, Limedock, London

This is not the most salubrious public house in the world. In fact, it is a haven for grimy sailors coming in from the docks after months at sea, looking for release in alcohol and whores of either sex. I am here, however, to interview Charles Tripp, a butler. We arranged the meeting several weeks past, but, as I will find out, Mr Tripp’s position has changed since our exchange of letters.

The man seems distracted. He is brooding about something, and although he is dressed in the manner of a man’s man, I can’t help but feel he is hiding dark thoughts.

Thank you for meeting with me, Mr Tripp. I would like to ask you a few questions if I may?

(As he acquiesces to my request, his mouth wrinkles into the kind of smile a trusted friend gives as he contemplates slitting your throat.)

Perhaps you could tell me your full name.

Charles Simon Tripp.

And you are the butler for Lord Clearwater of Riverside, correct?

I was.

(I sense this is the cause of the resentment apparent behind his eyes and decide not to probe. Yet.)

Can you tell me what being a butler entails?

The butler is the highest-ranking servant in the household. I am… I was responsible for the running of the house. This would include the organisation of the wine cellar, overseeing the work of the footmen at mealtimes, waiting on the master of the house, accounting for the silver and its cleaning, guarding the plate safe, and generally ensuring the house runs smoothly.

Almost a true likeness??

And how long have you been in service? Where did you start?

I entered service for the seventeenth Viscount Clearwater in eighteen thirty-six. Clearwater House had not long been built, and I was among the original staff, employed as a hall boy to fetch and carry for the older and more senior servants. By the age of seventeen, however, I had risen to the post of second footman to His Lordship, and soon after, received promotion to first footman at Larkspur Hall. On the death of my butler in sixty-five, His Lordship asked me to bypass the usual rank of under-butler and become his man. This I did willingly. On the death of His Lordship in eighteen seventy, I remained as butler for the eighteenth viscount, Mathias Riddington. On his sad passing two months ago, I retained my position.

Buttling for the current Lord Clearwater.

Until recently.

Oh? Have you retired from service?

No. I was retired from service by an ungrateful master.

(The answer is given with such a pointed stare I can feel his eyes prick the back of my own. I feel as though I am face to face with a wolf that has not eaten in days, and the slightest move on my part will give it the excuse to attack.)

I expect you have seen some great events at Larkspur Hall. Do you have a favourite time?

Butlers do not have favourites of anything, Sir. It is our job to uphold the nobleness of the household, to ensure work is carried out in a timely and quiet fashion. To ensure no speck blemishes the silver that adorns the impeccably clean crockery, and that the table is as much a credit to the Mistress as it is to her staff. Yes, there were many balls and dinners, hunting parties and Friday-to-Mondays at Larkspur Hall, and each one, to me, was a joy to serve. The joy, you see, comes from doing the job, being the best, and not letting the Master down on any front.

setting the table with the Butler stick – precision is key

You must have met many important people.

I was once addressed by the Tzar of Russia, Alexander the Third, the Peacemaker, as his country called him. Our current Prime Minister once commented on my choice of wine during a dinner; the Marquis of Salisbury was a great friend of the family, as was Disraeli. It would be crass of me to mention more, Sir, but yes, there have been many great events held at Larkspur Hall and at Clearwater House. Although smaller gatherings during the season, they were no less grand and deserved, and received the same immaculate attention.

Forgive me, Mr Tripp, I failed to ask about your family life. You came to service when young, but from where?

From my family home in North London.

And do you have brothers or sisters? Are you still in touch with them?

My family was a large but tragic one. My father was a naval man, my mother remained at home. My eldest sister died in infancy before I was born, and a second sister was dealt a similar hand. I was the first boy of five, and the only one to survive past infancy. Ours was not a well-off district, and cholera was a regular visitor. My father attempted to move us several times, but his shipman’s pay prevented it, and when he too died, there remained but my mother and myself. She put me into service, and then, through grief, passed away. I was left with no family that I knew of, working in a large house, learning a new way of life, and realising I was on my own.

Was it then that you decided you would aim for a butlership?

You ask such trite questions, Sir. (A flash of annoyance, and I’d swear his eyes glazed red for a second.) I answer them only out of duty. No. It was not then that I set my sights on being a butler. Such a desire creeps upon a man without him realising. It becomes ingrained in a servant that one must always strive to be better, and one accepts without thought that a natural progression is to be expected. Hall boy to footman and up through the ranks either in the same house, but more often, in another. Once a servant, there is nowhere to go but upwards or sideways. One would never step away from the progression to step down. It is beneath a footman, for example, to become a delivery boy, and beneath a hall boy to become a sweeper of the roads. A maid will only leave to become a wife. A housekeeper, like a butler, is married to the position. I no more decided one day to set my sights on a butlership as I set my sights on becoming destitute.

(Dare I ask the question? The man is speaking with passion, but I fear it is not passion for his job, but an angry fervour that has something to do with his earlier statement that he was Lord Clearwater’s butler, and no longer is.)

Your next question, Sir, or I will be about my business.

Apologies, I was wondering… What is your business these days?

(That, dear reader, is how to ask a question without asking it.)

I am, through no fault of my own, currently a man of my own means. On leaving… When I was unfairly dismissed from service, I was presented with a piece of irony. It is the way I describe the centrepiece Clearwater gave me as I left. It is ironic because it was the eighteenth viscount’s most treasured possession, second only to myself. I was his most treasured ornament, and in giving it to me, Clearwater threw the greatest insult. Why? Because, for me to live, I had no choice but to sell it. To sell my only reminder of my former life, my glory, a state to which, I have vowed, I will one day return. The centrepiece shall be the cause of Clearwater’s undoing. His repayment for his treatment of me, for with its sale, I have secured finance enough to see my vow to fruition, no matter what it takes.

(I fear my subject has stepped from one path to another, and I have ceased to exist. The threat of his stare is now aimed at nowhere but inside his mind, and I choose not to think on what he may be imagining. An observer’s job, however, is sometimes to probe, and I dare one last prompt.)

You have something on your mind, Mr Tripp. Is it your future?

It is, and it is a dark one. A lengthy tunnel at the end of which is a light, and only one thing can bring me to that light. As my way ahead ends in illumination, so Clearwater’s will end in a similar atonement. You see, our paths can only run parallel for a certain time. At some point they will merge and cross, and when they do, there will emerge from the embroilment only one path, either his or mine, for we two cannot both exist in this world. There can be life for only one of us.

(At this point, I detected some kind of madness within the man. A paling of the skin, a tightening of the mouth, or perhaps the glint of the eye which came with a twitch of the lips, as though a devious thought had occurred to both excite and concern him. That, and the chill shiver I suffered, told me I had probed far enough and for my own safety, it was time I retired.)

This interview was conducted not long after the events depicted in ‘Deviant Desire’ the first of the Clearwater Mysteries. If you want to begin an ongoing series that develops from the time of Jack the Ripper, through ten books and into the second series, the Larkspur Mysteries, then you can find all the novels in order on the series page: The Clearwater Mysteries.

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.

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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.