A Character Interview with James Wright

 

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.

[Twisted Tracks, The Clearwater Mysteries Book Two]

_______________________________

That is the opening of the second Clearwater Mysteries novel. It introduces us to a character who is to become one of the Clearwater five, the five main characters central to the ongoing series. James makes a brief appearance in book one, ‘Deviant Desire‘ when he is a telegram messenger boy and delivers the ‘smoking gun’ telegram to Clearwater House and meets Thomas. I wanted Thomas to have a love interest but had no idea that James would take on such an important role in the series. Mind you, neither did James and since he met the love of his life, he has crashed a locomotive, foiled an assassin or two, become friends with Tennyson, borrowed Queen Victoria’s private train, rescued Bram Stoker’s son, impersonated a barrister and saved Silas’ life on more than one occasion.

James is the lead detective in the Clearwater Detective Agency, and I thought it was about time we knew a little more about him. So, I sat down with him one quiet Sunday afternoon in The Crown and Anchor pub, near his home in South Riverside, London (in January 1890) and asked him a few questions.

 

What is your full name?

My full name is James Joseph Wright. My mother calls me Jim or Jimmy. Most of my friends call me Jimmy, but Andrej, His Lordship’s coachman, who has nicknames for everyone, calls me Tato. I know, it makes me sound like a bloody King Edward’s potato, but in Andrej’s language, it means ‘daddy.’ He started calling me this when the two of us had to look after Bram Stoker’s son, Noel because someone was trying to kill him. It’s not the worst nickname a man can have. We call Andrej Fecker because Silas used to call him ‘one handsome fucker’, and in Silas’ Irish accent, it sounds like Fecker. Andrej calls my lover, Thomas, ‘Bolshoydick’ because in Ukrainian, it means ‘large penis.’ (Long story, don’t ask.) So I suppose I got off lightly with Tato.

Where do you live now, and with whom?

Clearwater House 1st floor plan (rough)

At the moment, I’m at Clearwater House, Riverside. That’s the London home of Lord Clearwater where I came to work as a footman in 1888. To start with, I had a room on the top floor opposite Thomas, the butler. The following year, when Archer (Lord Clearwater) set up the detective agency and I became a gentleman, Archer have me a suite of rooms on the first floor. I have my own bedroom and sitting room, and an inside bathroom. This is at the back of the house, overlooking the yard and the mews, and beyond them, St Matthew’s Park. I am very lucky. Thomas still has his rooms above mine but only spends time in them if there are guests in the house; otherwise, we more or less live together.

When we are at Larkspur Hall, Archer’s country house, I used to have the senior footman’s rooms by the butler’s suite in the basement. Now, though, I have a similar but much larger suite of rooms opposite Silas and Archer’s, and Thomas has the suite next door. There’s a connecting door, so we can sort of live together without anyone knowing, and it’s like a bloody palace. Archer is very generous, as you can tell.

To which social class do you belong?

Who knows? (He laughs.) I was born in South Riverside, which is a typical lower-middle-class part of London near Chelsea, full of artisans and workmen, people with their own trades and businesses. My dad is a merchant seaman, and my mother a straw bonnet maker. We have a typical two-up two-down and an outside privy in a small yard, but we always had enough to get by. When I came to Clearwater House as a footman, I suppose I shifted sideways in class and went into ‘above stairs service.’ When Archer set up the agency, I became a gentleman with my own self-generated income, though not one with land or a title like the viscount. I still consider myself working class, though I can act ‘upper’ when I need to and ‘lower’ if necessary.

How would you describe your childhood?

Apart from having a younger and very annoying sister who is never happy about anything, childhood was alright. I had to go to school, but I was good at reading and always wanted to know more, so I suppose I was a bit annoying too. They made me go to Sunday school as well, but I used to bunk off that.

Telegraph boys line up to receive telegrams for delivery at the Central Telegraph Office in London

When I was 14, I got a job as a post office runner and then a messenger delivery boy. The job came with a uniform, and we had to do drills in the yard every morning like we were in the army. I got bullied there because I was dumpy and not very fit, but when I got taller, I started to get fitter.

They (the older messenger lads and one in particular) tried to get me into the money-making scam where they’d have sex with punters for coins, but I refused to do this. I was fascinated with the idea, though, because I think I always knew I wasn’t interested in girls, but doing it for money wasn’t for me. I suppose I was after love rather than just sex, but when you want sex with another man these days, well, you could end up in prison, so I had to keep quiet about all that.

Tom

So, when it comes to my first kiss, that was with Tom. He’d got me a job at Clearwater House and was showing me around on my first day. He got me the job because we fancied each other, though he also said I’d be good at it, and we were in his butler’s pantry… Actually, that was the second time. The first was when he showed me his rooms on the top floor. It was awkward, and I wanted to do a lot more than kiss, but we couldn’t. Later, we had a bit of a kiss in his pantry (his office), but we didn’t really get much of a chance until later when we were all in the north chasing the Ripper. Archer engineered a time we could be alone in this room we’d all been using at an inn, and Tom and I had had a bit of a row (long story), and we’d not even said ‘I love you’ by then, because we didn’t know how. Anyway, we managed an hour alone and did… You know, for the first time, though, that was a bit awkward too. We’re much better at it now. (He laughs.) But be careful who you tell that too, else we’ll get in trouble.

Do you have a criminal record?

No, but I should have! I’ve always been honest, you see, and that’s what Lord Clearwater liked about me. He tested me once with a five-pound note, and there was no way I was going to rip him off, and he saw that. So, he welcomed me to his ‘crew’ his circle of trusted friends and told me the first rule of Clearwater House which is honesty above all else. Since then, I’ve crashed a locomotive train into a river, helped Silas break into a brothel, punched Clearwater’s lights out, impersonated a barrister in open court (another long story), impersonated a Metropolitan police officer and lied about who I am, but only when I’ve had to. So much for ‘honesty above all else’! But it’s all been for the right reasons.

Are you able to kill? Under what circumstances do you find killing to be acceptable or unacceptable?

I had to think about this for a minute. I’m now a private investigator and have been in some pretty sticky situations. I’ve been there when people have died, but I haven’t actually killed anyone. There was the man who was trying to murder Silas, and he fell to his death. I was there but didn’t push him. Then there was the man trying to kill Archer, but Tom set fire to him, and Silas shot the other man in the head. The blackmailer… Well, that was his own fault… I better stop there, or I might get in trouble.

But to answer your question, yes, I could kill someone, but I’d rather stop someone from being killed. If anyone was trying to kill any of my close mates, anyone on the crew or any of the boys, like Jasper or Billy, then, as long as it was to save them or in self-defence, yes, I’d put a bullet in a man. Mind you, I don’t have a gun of my own so I’d have to borrow one.

Who or what would you die for or otherwise go to extremes for?

Goes without saying. Tom, Archer, Silas, Fecker, Jasper, Billy, Mrs Norwood… The Clearwater’ crew.’ Oh, and my family, of course.

What are your favourite hobbies and pastimes?

I go for a run around the park every morning when it’s not raining too hard, and I sometimes join some lads in the park on a Sunday for a game of football. I’ve played rugby as well, but I only do all this because, without it, I’d quickly get fat again.

A few of my favourite books

I read a bit because of my job. I have a stack of old copies of The Police Gazette and The Illustrated Police News for research on cases and keeping up to date with police procedures. I like novels, the kind of ‘Boy’s Own Paper’ style of things. I’ve got a signed Wilkie Collins that Lady Marshall gave me, and a book of Tennyson poems that Lord Alfred gave me, but otherwise, I use Archer’s library, and that’s full of all kinds of stuff from Burke’s Landed Gentry to a history of the Royal Navy. So, I read a lot and do a bit of sport.

 

Are you spontaneous, or do you always need to have a plan?

When you work for Lord Clearwater, you have to get used to making things up as you go along. I plan when I need to.

Describe the routine of a normal day for you.

There’s no such thing as a normal day when you’re a Clearwater detective and live with and work for Lord Clearwater. I have a routine, though, for when we’re not on a case. Tom’s always up early, and so am I. I go for a run if I can, have a wash or a bath, then go down to breakfast. I have breakfast with His Lordship and Silas when they’re at home or down in the servants’ hall with Fecks and Mrs Norwood and the boys when Archer is away. Then I’m in my office (Clearwater library), reading, looking at requests for help from all kinds of people who need an investigator, and Silas and I deal with those letters and things. He also runs a hostel in Greychurch, so I am on my own so a lot of the time.

If I’m not working on a case, I’m reading, researching, always trying to learn new stuff, helping Billy Barnett with this or that as he’s always trying to invent things and improve things. Sometimes, I go riding with Fecker, but usually, I’m busy on a case all day. When I’m free in the evening, I spend time with Tom in our suite just chatting or cuddling up, you know. Now and then, Archer drags us all to a theatre or a concert, and we go out to eat. Pretty ordinary things really, because I reckon I’m an ordinary lad from South Riverside who was lucky to fall in love and meet a man who only sees the best in people and encourages them to be themselves; Clearwater, that is.

What are you working on now?

Well, obviously, I can’t say too much, but I’ve come up to London from Larkspur Hall to work on a case that’s to do with inheritance. I’ve got meetings set up with Marks, His Lordship’s solicitor, and I have to get to the Inns of Court to see my barrister friend, Sir Easterby Creswell (always a bit of madness involved when he’s on the case).

“The Epidemic of Influenza” Manchester Weekly Times and Examiner, 11 Jan 1890, Sat Page 2

I’m working out of Clearwater House, trying to avoid this bloody influenza pandemic, and the rest of the time, I’m slowly sifting through the Clearwater archives to try and find a document that will save Archer’s fortune from going to a very distant and undeserving Romanian relative, while also helping Archer set up a new academy for gifted young men, or whatever it’s going to be when he decides.

One thing You can say about being part of Clearwater’s world; there’s never a dull moment.

(James has just celebrated his 27th birthday.)

New Release: Negative Exposure

New Release: Negative Exposure

Today I have news of my latest release, Negative Exposure.

This is book nine in the ongoing Clearwater Mystery series. It not only gives you a mystery, an exciting finale with a face-off and chase, but it also paves the way for book ten—more about that in a minute. First, I would like to tell you a little about what is behind Negative Exposure and how I came to write it.

Banyak & Fecks

Although this is book nine in the popular series, it is born out of the series prequel, Banyak & Fecks. When I was writing the prequel, I was researching what my main character, Silas Hawkins, might have done to make ends meet. If you have read it, you will know he moved to London in 1884, aged 16, to find his fortune, send money home to his sisters so they could survive. He was always a petty-criminal and not afraid of the law, so he fell into dipping (pickpocketing) and running scams. Having met Andrej (Fecks), he discovered prostitution, which led him to pose naked for a photographer.

There is a scene in Banyak & Fecks where Silas goes to have his photos taken, and it all goes wrong (no spoilers). That was the starting point for the idea behind Negative Exposure.

The story starts in December 1889 and the second Clearwater Foundation gala, held at the Lyceum Theatre in London. Silas is now the Foundation’s public face, and the Queen’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor, is considering becoming a patron of the charity. It’s all going well, but then Silas’ old life comes back to haunt him. The story of his past unfolds, and in the narrative, we’re taken back to the scene of the photographic session. From then on, the mystery becomes more complicated as James and Fecker work together to discover the villain’s identity and do something about it before it’s too late…

The Obscene Publications Act of 1857

This act of British law, also called Lord Campbell’s Act, was introduced into statute because, Prior to this Act, the “exposure for sale” of “obscene books and prints” had been made illegal by the Vagrancy Act 1824. but the publication of obscene material was a common-law misdemeanour. The effective prosecution of authors and publishers was difficult even in cases where the material was clearly intended as pornography. [Wikipedia]

Researching into this act, because I like to include factual historical details in my fiction, I discovered that the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Campbell, presided over its creation when the House of Commons was debating a bill to restrict the sale of poisons. Campbell made the analogy that (what we now call) pornography was a sale of poison more deadly than prussic acid, strychnine or arsenic. So, our obscenity laws stemmed from the sale of poison, and the act was not repealed and updated until over one hundred years later, in 1959.

All very interesting, but what I found more interesting was the law didn’t say anything about those who made the pornography or appeared in it. It was purely to do with the sale of printed works. More interesting, though typical of the time, was the blatant hypocrisy behind notions of pornography. It was something that would adversely affect women and young people — men, it seems, were not affected by images of naked men. I also looked into that and had to wonder how a person can pose for an artist and have a nude painting represent, say, a Classic figure from mythology and people call it acceptable art, and yet a naked man posing in the same fashion but for a camera was considered pornography. That was something of a rabbit hole, and one I may go further down one day.

All interesting stuff, and slightly explored in Negative Exposure, which is more a mystery thriller than it is a work about the originals of the Obscene Publications Act of 1857.

The Russian or Asiatic Influenza Pandemic of 1889/1890

Another aspect of Negative Exposure is the background world, what was actually happening in London in 1889, and that, ironically enough, was an influenza pandemic. It started in Asia and quickly spread across Europe in 1889, reaching London late in the year, just about the time my story starts. That, I thought, would act as a handy added layer of tension and could also make for a couple of twists.

And On To Book Ten

While writing Negative Exposure, my mind was already fast-forwarding to the next book.

Now then, some people might think that ten books in one series is enough, and right now, I agree. It’s not that I am getting tired of my characters or world, but I wonder if the reader might be. As the series has grown, so has the cast list, and there is now a group of ten main characters. They, I thought, might make for a good and final part ten. ‘The Power of Ten’ was my original idea, and I thought of a story that would see all ten main players banding together to fix one final mystery.

[The ten, by the way, would be: Clearwater and Silas, James and Thomas, Jasper & Billy, Fecker & Lucy, Mrs Norwood, Doctor Markland.]

Map showing the spread of the pandemic, 1889 to 1890

However, when I started on Negative Exposure and brought in the influenza pandemic as background colour, another idea occurred to me. This was an idea I had a while back, and one that concerns Archer (Lord Clearwater’s) title and estates. It’s complicated because he is the second son and the oldest one—the ‘real’ viscount—is still alive though stripped of his title (which, I don’t think, was possible, but this is fiction). So, I started to think, what would happen if Archer’s land, money, charities, business and all that were in jeopardy? Not the man himself, but everything he stands for. Well, actually, why not the man himself as well? What if Archer stands to lose everything? How might that come about? What could be done to save it?

And that’s how part ten has started. So far, it is titled ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, and the last couple of chapters of Negative Exposure pave the way and start the story rolling.

I am working on it. It’s turning out to be complicated to hone down to the simplest way of explaining the inheritance problem and how it might be shifted from one man to another, and it’s giving me a headache. But, once I have the technicalities nailed down, the rest of the story will flow because I have already invented it in my head.

‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ won’t be out for a few months, as I have to get everything right, and there are lots of ends to tie up before the series finishes.

Except, it’s not going to finish, not really, and not if I can keep the momentum and direct it into a siding. You see, I have an idea for a second series based in the Clearwater World, and the groundwork for that is also laid out in the final chapters of Negative Exposure, and the foundations will be laid during the telling of book ten, The Clearwater Inheritance.

No promises, but don’t worry that you after book ten you won’t read of Archer, Silas, Fecks and the crew, because they will be back as background characters in a new series, ‘The Larkspur Academy Mysteries’, or adventures, or… well, it’s all still rather in the planning stage, and I am not even sure it will be written.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling from me. The main point here is that Negative Exposure is now available in paperback and Kindle and on Kindle Unlimited if you use that service, and it’s set at the same price as all my other books. Just follow the links, read, enjoy, and if you do, review and share the news.

Thanks for being here, and I will see you next week.

Jackson

The Real History Behind The Clearwater Mysteries

Part 1 – Jack the Ripper

This is the first blog in a series over the next few months where I will look at the real historical events behind each of my books in the Clearwater Mysteries Series. Today we talk about that infamous murderer, Jack the Ripper and are joined by guest author Russell Edwards of “Naming Jack the Ripper” fame.

Where did my fascination with The Ripper come from?

I have had an interest in Jack the Ripper since I lived in the East End of London in the 80s/90s. I lived two miles away from Whitechapel and often walked down to Shoreditch and Spitalfields for the markets, treading some of the streets where Jack committed his murders. Like many, I love an unsolved mystery and have a theory that what draws people to this particular mystery is the possibility of being the one to solve it.

Books, documentaries, TV…

There are plenty of books on the subject, some by learned authors, some by amateur sleuths, and many purporting to have found ‘the final clue’, or to know the definitive answer. I have read, maybe not all of them but, enough to have a general understanding of the main details of the mystery. It was that background that led me to ‘Deviant Desire.’

In particular, I had read “The Diary of Jack the Ripper” by Shirley Harrison, ‘The Complete Jack the Ripper‘ by Donald Rumbelow, ‘Naming Jack the Ripper‘ by Russel Edwards, and had dipped in and out of ‘The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper‘ by Maxim Jakubowski, Kris Dyer, et al. Checking my Kindle content list, I remember I have also read ‘Jack the Ripper’s Streets of Terror‘ by John Stewart, ‘Chasing the Ripper‘ by Patricia Cornwell, and ‘Jack the Ripper: The Simple Truth‘ by Bruce Paley, and some compilations that had articles about aspects of the case along with other famous crimes of the age.

Good Lord! On top of that little lot, I have seen various documentaries on the subject, and of course, some rather dubious film and TV accounts. Most, if not all of these books and programmes offer their version of what actually happened, who Jack definitely was beyond doubt, and each of them is in their own way, convincing. They can’t all be right, and the truth is, we will probably never know the answer, and it’s that that keeps the fascination alive.

I invited Russell Edwards over to the blog today to chat with me. He is the author of  ‘Naming Jack the Ripper‘ and runs The Jack the Ripper Tour Company in London.

 

Russell, where did your obsession with Jack the Ripper start?

Not so much an obsession, but more an interest in the real story and the challenge of discovering who the true murderer was. It started when I watched the film: ‘From Hell’.  I did a Ripper tour the next day and it wasn’t until I did it did I realise that the Ripper murders occurred in the area I’d been in all that time. That’s where my story started.

Your identification of the Ripper is based on the DNA collected from a shawl. Why was the shawl so important and how did you find it?

The Shawl

 

I was told that a shawl was for sale at a reputable auction house in Suffolk. I went to see it and it had blood on there. It was clearly very old. The auction brochure said: interested parties should make their own enquiries. It also stated that the shawl had been kept for a while at the crime museum at Scotland Yard. I called Scotland Yard and the investigation started there. I found a direct link to the dates of the last three murders to the pattern on the shawl. I told this to Scotland Yard who then told me the true story of the identity of Jack the Ripper.

If the Ripper had committed his crimes in the modern-day do you think the police would have been more successful in solving the crime?

Yes. He would have apprehended very quickly. There are CCTV cameras on every street in the area. With modern police procedures, he would have bee caught in my opinion. A copycat killer who murdered two prostitutes recently was apprehended very quickly.

Aaron Kosminski is the man that you believe to be Jack the Ripper – if you could meet him what would you say to him?

What was the trigger to murder the first one?

What do you think was going through his mind when he was killing those young girls, why was he so obsessed and brutal?

I’m a fully qualified Psychotherapist and have written a paper on this point. It is related to his mental health, his past, what happened to him as a child. I can’t really say what was going through his mind at the time other than he developed a bloodlust as serial killers do.

If you could choose one location that showcases Victorian London and everything linked to the Ripper, where would it be?

It would be the junction of Princelet Street and Wilkes Street. It really delivers the feeling of 1888 Whitechapel.

As you turn into Wilkes Street, Whitechapel you see the dark Georgian houses that existed at the time of the Ripper murders in 1888.

Moving to your walking tours, tell us a little bit about them.  

I incorporate the story of the murders with the discovery of the Ripper to educate the public who Jack the Ripper truly was. By coming on the tour I would hope that you learn the truth and the story of Jack the Ripper. Normally, the tours run every week from Aldgate East Tube Station at 7pm.

You can keep up to date with our tour news on Facebook and Instagram.

At the moment due to the current restrictions look out for online events and podcasts such as this discussion and chat with The Real Paranormal Magazine UK this week.

Thank you Russell for your time, a great guy to follow if you share our fascination.

 ———————————————————————————

So, back to my Clearwater world. Which came first? The idea for the series and then the setting in Victorian London OR thinking about the Ripper which led to the book?

Deviant Desire, The Clearwater Mysteries book one

I can’t remember exactly what I was doing when the idea for ‘Deviant Desire’ popped into my head. ‘Well,’ I thought one day out of the blue, ‘what if the Ripper had killed rent boys?’ (As we call them now.) Street rat renters in my imaginary, Clearwater world. That was how ‘Deviant Desire’ started. Take a Victorian renter, put him in Whitechapel in 1888 and see what happens. Oh, better add in a love story… What about the class divide too? He’ll need a sidekick, and I will need to do more research. I called Whitechapel’ Greychurch’ because I wanted to take other liberties than ‘Jack’ killing young men not women, but I did manage to get in some nods to the original story while inventing my fiction.

My imaginary world in Victorian London was created with facts twisted into my own plots

Readers might note that I have a ‘double event’, a murder takes place in Bishop’s Square (Elizabeth Stride was killed in Mitre Square). Annie Chapman died in Hanbury Street; my victim was found in Harrington Street. I invented Lucky Row, and Mary Ann Nichols was killed in Buck’s Row. Astute readers might also have noticed that Lord Clearwater lives in Buck’s Avenue which leads into a Buck’s Row, but that’s over in Knightsbridge. I changed the names (and dates) because I wanted them to fit my own trail of clues. My characters also work through a series of other possibilities, such as the murder sites forming a Star of David, or the letter A, but these, they quickly discount for logical reasons.

Jack the Ripper, and the knowledgeable books I have read on the subject, clearly inspired and, in part, informed the story of ‘Deviant Desire.’ In no way did I set out to solve the original murders. Nor did I base my story on facts – apart from the conditions and mores of the time, etiquette, grand houses, servants’ roles, transport and other historical background facts. Jack was the inspiration only, but what I did end up doing was unmasking my fictional Ripper. That, I thought, had to be done to complete the story, but the allure of Jack is that no-one knows who he was. The murders just stopped. Translate that to my fictional world, I thought, and I can explain why the ‘East End Ripper’ (as I called him) suddenly stopped his killing spree. In my world, it was because he’d done what he set out to do, but that still left me with my tongue in my cheek thinking, ‘But I can then tell the reader why and how his murders stopped.’ In other words, I thought, I could tell the reader what happened to ‘Jack’ and explain why my East End Ripper was never caught.

To learn that, you will have to read book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’, and possibly books three and four… Actually, up to book six, but, hopefully, after reading ‘Deviant Desire,’ you will want to carry on the series and find out how the characters develop, how storylines interweave and see what becomes of my street rat renter.

The Clearwater Mystery series has now reached eight published novels, number nine ‘Negative Exposure’ is about to come out, and number ten, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ has been plotted, and I am ready to start. And it’s all thanks to the unsolved case of Jack the Ripper.

As I final note, I want to say how thrilled I was that Russell took the time and trouble to answer questions for me. As an amateur, it’s an honour, like having a signed copy of his book. I have a hard copy, and maybe one day, when I can, I will return to the East End and take the tour, bringing the book with me for the ultimate signature.

I’ll be back next week. Meanwhile, if you want to see the cover of ‘Negative Exposure’ you can find it on my Facebook page.

Negative Exposure: Chapter One

Negative Exposure: Chapter One

I have a Valentine’s Day gift for you. Not a box of chocolates or bunch of flowers, not even anything remotely to do with love, not directly. What I have for you is the first chapter of the next Clearwater Mystery, ‘Negative Exposure.’

But, you can only read the whole chapter when you get the newsletter on Sunday 14th, so make sure to look out for it, or sign up for it here.

Today, though, I wanted to give you a little more information about Negative Exposure, the Clearwater Mysteries, Book Nine.

So, what’s the story? I hear you ask.
Well… I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but I can tell you that this time, we’re looking at blackmail. Silas is riding high on the success of the second Clearwater Gala. This is a star-studded, glittering night at London’s Lyceum Theatre performed in front of Prince Albert Victor, Queen Victoria’s grandson, also known as Prince Eddy.

Apart from being there, meeting the cast, the Clearwater’ crew’ and some of the boys from the Cheap Street Mission, the prince is considering becoming a patron of the Clearwater Foundation, a huge, honour and something that would probably put Archer on the path to an Earldom. And it’s all thanks to Silas.

However… Something from Silas’ past suddenly comes back to slap him in the face and threatens everything; Archer’s reputation, the Foundation’s success, the boys at the mission, Silas’ friends and even the reputation of Prince Albert Victor. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Doctor Markland reports an influenzas pandemic spreading from eastern Europe, and warns the household to travel to Larkspur Hall in Cornwall for their safety. On top of that, Archer (and Thomas) are called away to Paris, travelling into the heart of the outbreak, where Archer’s mother, Lady Clearwater, has been taken ill.

All this leaves Silas relying on James and Fecker to help him end the blackmail before anyone finds out, particularly Archer. As James investigates, the pressure mounts, he and Silas very nearly do something they shouldn’t, and Silas buckles under the stress of it all.

The mysteries pile up too. Who is the blackmailer? How to find him/her? How to stop him? And then, about halfway through, there’s another twist, and things get more tense until we end up with an ‘old-style’ Clearwater climax: action, a chase, a twist or two, remote location, acts of heroism…

While writing ‘Negative Exposure’, I also had in mind the tenth mystery. Therefore, number nine lays some of the groundwork for number ten, which has a working title of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’ This means I am planning at least one more Clearwater Mystery before, perhaps, changing the direction of the Clearwater world… I am still thinking about that, and I have another idea for a spin-off story called ‘Blackwood & Barnett’ in a similar vein to ‘Banyak & Fecks’, but that’s for later in the year, if at all.

Meanwhile…

Negative Exposure should be available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle and Kindle Unlimited by the end of this month. We are still finalising the cover, so I can’t share that with you yet, but before you settle down to read what it is all about (no spoilers), here is a drawing, an artist’s impression of one of the lead characters of the series, and one of the heroes of book nine, James Wright.

Just to tempt you a little further, here is the last part of chapter one. We are at the Lyceum Theatre, London, and the second Clearwater gala has just come to an end.

Negative Exposure
The Clearwater Mysteries Book Nine

Excerpt from Chapter One

Friday, December 6th 1889
The Lyceum Theatre, London

The curtain might have come down on the on-stage production, but the off-stage performance was to continue until the prince had left the theatre. While Irving and Archer took the royal party backstage to meet the performers, Silas’ job was to gather mission clients and Archer’s staff at the top of the grand staircase ready for presentation.

‘Right,’ he said, turning to face his friends along the row. ‘That’s that over with. Now comes the fun stuff. Fecks, you’re on your best behaviour. Billy, if His Highness asks you anything, you reply without swearing, understood?’

‘Too bloody right, Mr Hawkins,’ Billy beamed, and Jasper flicked him with his programme.’

The auditorium hummed with murmurs of appreciation as the audience filed out, climbing the stairs to the back of the circle where they dispersed to collect cloaks and hats before descending to the foyer hoping to meet His Highness. Silas wove through them with polite excuses, keen to reach the grand staircase and meet Markland. He was more nervous about this part of the evening than he had been about anything else. Preoccupied with ensuring everything went to plan and his boys didn’t embarrass Archer in front of royalty, he forgot about the man who had been staring, and set his mind to what the prince might ask.

Silas Hawkins, a boy from the Westerpool gutters, was now the public face of the Clearwater Foundation and about to meet royalty.

Nothing must go wrong.


If you have not yet read the Clearwater Mysteries, you can find them all on my Amazon author page.
If you want to start right from the beginning, you should read ‘Banyak & Fecks’, but you don’t have to, and you can pop back to that one at any time.
The mystery that starts the ongoing series is ‘Deviant Desire’, and from then on, the characters develop, the world enlarges, and the mysteries remain just as intriguing.

Negative Exposure & A Valentine’s Peek

Negative Exposure & a Valentine’s Peek

Hi, welcome to my Saturday blog. Today, I want to tell you more about ‘Negative Exposure, the Clearwater Mysteries, Book Nine’, and give you a heads-up about something special for Valentine’s Day.

Negative Exposure

This is the ninth book in the ongoing series, the Clearwater Mysteries (though the 10th book in the Clearwater world, as there is a non-mystery prequel, ‘Banyak & Fecks’).

If you’ve been following the series, you’ll know that after the mayhem of books one to six, there was a break in pace for two slower, calmer mysteries, ‘Home from Nowhere’ and ‘One of a Pair’.

Inspiration for part of the cover

Well, with ‘Negative Exposure’, the Clearwater crew is back to detecting, unlocking clues, racing against time and battling things out on stormy clifftops. While I’m about it, I’m also drawing on information and events from the prequel and other novels through the series, and bringing in the real flu pandemic of 1889. (It was around for longer, but this story takes place in December 1889.)

Negative Exposure is also setting things up for Clearwater 10, which will be the prelude to a change in direction, but not an end to the Clearwater world. I’m still thinking about this idea, so my plans might change.

Negative Exposure starts at the end of the 2nd Clearwater Gala, this time, held at the Lyceum Theatre, London as discussed by Clearwater, Henry Irving and Bram Stoker in ‘Artful Deception.’ Everything’s going well until, the next day, two pieces of potentially devastating news arrive at Clearwater House. One, brought by Dr Markland, involves the spreading pandemic, the other is found by Harvey in Silas’ coat pocket, and threatens to blow Silas and Archer’s world apart.

What is it?

These days, we would probably call it pornography, back then the word, although in existence, wasn’t widely used, so I’ve gone with ‘erotica’ and other Victorian euphemisms. James leads the investigation, with Silas and Fecker also involved, and it takes them back into Silas’ past and an event from ‘Banyak & Fecks’, on to the Cheap Street Mission, and later, to the wilds of the west coast of Scotland. During all of this, there is a growing sexual frisson between two major characters who should not be attracted to each other. There is no great love story, other than my favourite theme of friendship and how far we would go for our friends.

I’ve decided to release a sample of the story in a special newsletter on Valentines Day, not because the story is about love, but as a gift for readers.

Valentine’s Day

On this day, I will be sending out a newsletter that will include part of a chapter from ‘Negative Exposure.’ I have yet to decide precisely what chapter and what part as it’s one of those stories that follows on scene by scene, and doesn’t have a section that can easily be taken out and posted as a standalone piece, but… well, we’ll see.

If you’ve not signed up to the newsletter, you can do it here with a couple of clicks.

I usually only send one per month, and I don’t bombard people with other writers’ books’ sales opportunities or news. It’s purely informal and personal, with news of my work and what I have been doing here on our quiet Greek island.

Back to Editing

While writing this post, I am in the middle of editing ‘Negative Exposure.’ I am currently on chapter 12 of 24, going through each page line by line, removing repeats and shaving off too many passive verbs and dangling modifiers, and all that grammar jazz. I’m also ensuring that clues tie-up, backstories are consistent, and words are spelt correctly. The manuscript is booked in with my proof-reader for February 15th, which means I am aiming for a release date in the week of February 22nd. Not long to wait now. It also means I have a tight deadline and as each chapter takes me roughly two hours to line-edit, I can’t hang around, and I need to get back to work.

First, though, I am finishing my cup of tea before going for a short walk around our village for the exercise. It gets in the way of my writing but must be done, and while I am doing it, I can put together an outline for Book 10, which has a working title of ‘The Final Prelude’, but that’s very much at the in-the-imagination draft stage right now.

One last thing, an appeal. If you’ve read any of my books and liked them, it would be helpful if you could give them a good rate on Amazon, or even a short review, and share news of the books around your social media. I know many of you do, but new readers might not know how much those small actions can help a writer develop his audience.

Thank you, and look out for the Valentine’s Day newsletter and your exclusive peek at ‘Negative Exposure’, the Clearwater Mysteries, Book Nine.

Jack

Ideas for the Next Clearwater Mystery

Ideas for the Next Clearwater Mystery

I have to admit, I completely forgot what day of the week it was, and that’s why my Saturday blog post is appearing on a Sunday. I was sitting here at the computer yesterday writing ideas for a new Clearwater story and thinking, ‘I’m sure there’s something I should be doing…’ There was, and here it is.

A (possible) New Clearwater Mystery for Book Nine

Here’s a treat for you. A sketch of Fecker drawn for the Clearwater Companion (a work in very slow progress).

During the last two weeks, I have begun work on a new Clearwater adventure. I had started one before I sat down to write the prequel, Banyak & Fecks, and had the beginning, the ending and the mystery in between semi-mapped out. I was going to call this one ‘Men of a Similar Heart’ because I liked the title, and I may still come back to that title and story in the future. For some reason, though, I reached around 30,000 words and found myself trundling. I mean, writing chapters where all kinds of interesting domestic things happened, characters chatted, and we delved into day to day life at Clearwater House, but where nothing actually happened to advance the mystery story. This suggested that either I wasn’t in the right mood to continue an adventure, or the story was mundane.

Victorian Erotica

So, I set that aside and started on a completely different idea which was thrown up during the writing of Banyak & Fecks. If you’ve read that one, you’ll know there is a scene where Silas is invited/seduced into posing naked for photographs. [I looked around the web for an image or two to illustrate that scene and found only a couple of solo men. The others were far too pornographic to display here.]

Later than 1889 judging from his hair style, but you get the picture.

This did go on in those times (1889). There was a market for erotica and pornography, straight and gay, and you can find original images online in various archives. Of course, the practice was going on before and has been happening ever since. My godfather (born in 1919) was once a model for erotic images in the 1920s and 30s. He posed for a fairly well-known photographer called Angus McBain, in Victoria, London, and told me about his sittings when he related his life story to me later in his life.

In Banyak & Fecks, Silas poses and is photographed… and then the story moves on. I was thinking about what to write next, aware that the ongoing series has reached the last few months of 1889, and I wondered, ‘Now what?’ Most of the love stories have been put in place, and I can’t really introduce another new character and love story, Clearwater House is now full of couples! Well, we have Archer/Silas, James/Thomas, Fecker/Lucy and now, Jasper/Billy. Apart from perhaps having some infidelity (which is not impossible), it’s currently hard to think how I can inject another love-thread into the saga. Instead, I thought, I might have a simple mystery for James, the detective, to solve with one or two of the other characters.

And then I remembered Silas’ photo-shoot with ‘Sir’ in Banyak & Fecks, and thought, ‘What if…?’ As that idea started to grow, I realised that, as we’re towards the end of 1889, another Clearwater Foundation Gala is due; another big theatrical event with the well to do of London, and thought, ‘that’s an interesting starting place,’ and the idea developed.

Relating the Story to Today

1889 saw the outbreak of a worldwide flu pandemic, the ‘Russian’ or ‘Asiatic’ flu that started in Bukhara in the Russian Empire (now in Uzbekistan). It reached England in December 1889, perfect timing, I thought if such a tragedy could be considered perfect.

This means I have three pieces of a possible mystery puzzle. 1) a threat to Clearwater and his way of life with the surfacing of erotic photographs of Silas, His Lordship’s secretary and coordinator of the Greychurch Mission. 2) The second Clearwater Gala, and 3) the arrival of Russian flu in Britain.

How to tie them together?

Well, I thought, also available to me in terms of historical accuracy, is Prince Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence, Queen Victoria’s grandson (also known as Prince Eddy, and one of the more unlikely suspects for being Jack the Ripper). He was away in South Africa at the time I am writing, but I can take a liberty with that, and I wondered how it might add pressure to the story if he was at the gala, and better, considering becoming the patron of the Clearwater Foundation.

A cencored image such as those Silas posed for.

With that in the offing, and images of Silas about to surface, there could be a head-on collision for Clearwater, and what’s more, it will take place during the outbreak of deadly flu. So, I then added another what if…? Someone close to Clearwater became gravely ill. That adds pressure, but what if this impending tragedy caused Clearwater to travel abroad, thus putting him in more danger, leaving some of his crew behind to deal with the possible Silas embarrassment?

Who is in charge of sorting out this mess? Well, at the moment, I am working on the idea that James, Silas and Fecker will take the lead in this story, and I am up to 30,000 words, which is about the end of the first act.

The New Story So Far

No spoilers, but in the story so far, the gala has happened, Prince Eddy is considering lending his name to the Clearwater Foundation, everyone is happy, but Dr Markland has pulled Archer aside to give him grave news. Back home the next day, Markland and Archer tell everyone about the flu heading to London, and Archer orders everyone to Larkspur for their protection.

The spread of Russian Flu 1889 – 1890

But… He’s also received word that his mother, while travelling to Bran Castle for Christmas as she does every year, has fallen ill with the flu in Paris. Archer and Thomas set off for Paris, Harvey and Mrs Norwood pack up Clearwater House and take the staff to Larkspur, and everything seems on track.

But… Behind this, Silas has received copies of photos he posed for three years previously, along with a blackmail threat, and the only people he can turn to are James and Fecker…

And… Well, that’s the next stage. As the characters investigate, I will inject a deadline and head to a climax that will somehow involve one of those ‘race to beat the baddie’ endings that we saw in Twisted Tracks, Unspeakable Acts, Artful Deception and the others.

That’s where I am at the moment. Today, if I can, I want to bring the first act to its end with one almighty twist, or development, or ‘oh no!’ moment, and that’s my job as soon as I have finished this stream of consciousness ramble.

Thanks for listening. Writing this has helped me clear my thoughts which were becoming a little bit stuck. Next week, hopefully, I will remember what day it is and post my last blog post of 2020 on Saturday as usual.

While searching for suitable photos for this post, I stumbled across Josephine Myles, ‘Gay romance with lashings of English sauce’ and a post on her site, from which I borrowed an image (which I censored slightly). Have a look at her site.

Unspeakable Acts: Male Sex Workers in Victorian London

Unspeakable Acts: Male Sex Workers in Victorian London

October is LGBT History month in America. Founded in 1994 by a high school teacher, October was chosen because schools were in session and October 11th is Coming Out Day. Each year, the organisation celebrates 31 LGBT icons and asks for nominations for the following year. There’s a link to the website at the end of this post.

So, what has that to do with the title of this post and my series set in the 1880s? Let me explain.

Astute readers may have noticed the titles of the first four books in The Clearwater Mystery series, and how each one employs a word once used to describe gay men; Deviant Desire, Twisted Tracks, Unspeakable Acts, and Fallen Splendour. Yes, I did that on purpose, and the second word of each title relates to the story:

Deviant Desire – Archer’s (then considered) deviant love for Silas, and the Ripper’s deviant desire to kill. Twisted Tracks – the trail the Ripper leaves

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

as he tries to escape, and the finale happens on top of a moving train. Unspeakable Acts – set at the Royal Opera House where a speech is unspeakable because the speaker may be murdered if he makes it and an opera also has acts. It also relates to the activities that go on inside the Cleaver Street male brothel. Fallen Splendour – based on Tennyson’s line, ‘The splendour falls on castle walls’, where the splendour of the characters’ friendship flourishes, we end up at Larkspur Hall, Clearwater’s country home, and we have a splendid appearance of a particular character right at the end.

Each one is a play on words, fine. So, what has that to do with the title and male sex workers in Victorian London let alone LGBT History month?

Well, I thought, ‘Who might be a gay icon from the 1880s?’ , if such a thing took place and being gay then was acceptable/legal. I decided, apart from Clearwater who is fictitious, I might have nominated John Saul.

John (actually christened Johannes also known as Jack, or Irish Jack) was born in Dublin in 1857.

The Sins of Jack Saul

He was involved in a homosexual scandal at Dublin Castle in 1884, came to London and worked briefly at Drury Lane, but was also a sex worker. The book ‘The Sins of Jack Saul’ by Glenn Chandler is available from Amazon if you want the full story. John/Jack Saul is also thought to be the author of a famous gay, erotic novel, ‘The Sins of the City of the Plain’ (1881), and I can tell you, it’s an eye-opener. I don’t know whether nominating such a chap is the right thing to do, he was in and out of court, but never actually imprisoned (as far as I can remember), probably because he entertained titled and wealthy gentlemen, and they didn’t want to risk being exposed. Still, having researched what such young men had to do to survive, I’ll use him as my imaginary nomination for LGBT History Month 1888 on behalf of all sex-working young men of the time.

Currently, I am researching and writing a Clearwater prequel, ‘Banyak & Fecks’, and these two characters turn to sex work to stay alive. Every time I search for resources about male prostitution in London in the 1880s, I come up against three main categories: Jack Saul, telegraph boys, and the Cleveland Street Scandal. (The trial of Oscar Wilde is beyond my current era, so that hasn’t happened yet.)

I have used all three as inspiration in my series.

A bust, possibly of Jack Saul, found in Paris.

Left: No photograph of Saul is known to exist. However, in 2020 Glenn Chandler was contacted by a reader of his biography who owned a paper-mache head of a smiling young male which had been purchased in a Paris flea market years before. It bears a metal plate reading “Jack Saul 1890”

Silas Hawkins (of the Clearwater Mysteries) is loosely based on the Jack Saul from ‘The Sins of the City…’. Although Silas a very good-looking young fellow, he is not effeminate but does have a fresh-looking, beardless face and sparkling blue eyes. The Jack Saul of the story is also described as having …an Adonis-like figure… especially about what snobs call the fork of his trousers, where evidently he was favoured by nature by a very extraordinary development of the male appendage. A description which inspired my character, Andrej (Fecks), and the fact that Thomas in my series has auburn hair the same as Jack Saul and an extraordinary development of his own, isn’t coincidental either.

Telegraph boys were also notorious for giving ‘extras’ for a small fee. These young men, some as young as thirteen, were employed to deliver telegrams, the equivalent of today’s texting, I guess. Smartly dressed in tight blue uniforms, fit from walking, and employed to knock at the doors of private homes, you can imagine how gay men, closeted by necessity, might find them tempting, and as the youths weren’t well paid, ‘tips’ were often welcome.

James Wright enters my series in book one as a telegraph boy, but only to deliver a message and make eyes at Thomas, and comes into his own in book two, ‘Twisted Tracks.’ When younger, James, like many young men in the service, had been approached by an older messenger who suggests he could do well if he gave ‘extras.’ James isn’t interested. Later, the same older boy, Eddie Lovemount, tries to interest him in a male brothel in Cleaver Street, and again, James isn’t interested.

However, in book three, ‘Unspeakable Acts’, Silas, on seeing Viscount Clearwater’s old school friend at dinner, thinks he remembers the man from a time he was taken to Cleaver Street (by Lovemount) to consider becoming a kept ‘Mary-Ann.’ Silas declines, but, in the story, has to return there to discover if Clearwater’s friend uses the brothel, and James assists him. In the house, Silas witnesses what would have been called unspeakable acts taking place, and parts of the mystery start to come together.

Hopefully, you can see the connections I am making here.

Newspaper illustration of The Cleveland Street Scandal.

Jack Saul was called as a witness in the Cleveland Street Scandal which came about after Thomas Swinscow, a General Post Office messenger was investigated for having too much money about his person. Swinscow admitted that he made his cash working for Charles Hammond at 19 Cleveland Street, a male brothel. A couple of other young men involved were called Newlove and Thickbroom (honestly), so I think I was justified in calling my brothel agent Lovemount. Another was called George Wright, but it was coincidental that I called my character James Wright.

In Unspeakable Acts, I refer to the brothel as being at Cleaver Street for the same reason Whitechapel is Greychurch, and Limehouse is Limedock because I wanted to be creative with certain facts. For example, the Cleveland Street Scandal didn’t break until later in 1889, and my story takes place in November 1888, and in Deviant Desire, the Ripper is killing rent boys, not female sex workers.

Let’s get back to ‘Unspeakable Acts’ and LGBT History Month, and let’s do it via ‘Banyak & Fecks’ which is still currently ‘on the typewriter.’

This prequel fills in information about Silas and Andrej (Banyak & Fecks as they nickname each other), and part of their backstory is about selling their bodies for sex in order to eat. It’s nothing like ‘The Sins of the City of the Plain’ in that it is not graphic, though we’re not left in any doubt what they have to agree to do to earn their money. As I was/am writing it, and researching into what life would have been like for them, and while trying to find research other than Saul, messenger boys and Cleveland Street, it occurred to me how dangerous the job would have been (and still can be, I imagine).

Silas Hawkins depicted at The Royal Opera House

These young men of the past risked all kinds of disease and infections from lice to syphilis. They risked death, as their female counterparts did at the hands of Jack the Ripper. They suffered abuse in the name of fetish, such as hinted at in ‘Unspeakable Acts.’ Some were used as male models and went willingly to the studios, while others were coerced and then forced into pornography. Meanwhile, although the death penalty for sodomy in the UK was abolished in 1861, thanks to section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, the Labouchere amendment, ‘gross indecency’ was a crime carrying a penalty of up to two years with hard labour.

The thing that got me in the Cleveland Street scandal and other trials of telegraph boys and male sex workers was that if a scandal did break, or an arrest was made, it was usually the victim who was punished, not the instigator. The victim being the youth who undertook the work because he had no choice, the instigators often being rich, titled or older men with the contacts, finances and ability to get themselves off – if you will excuse the term.

Which is why, if now was 1888, and I was voting for my LGBT icon of the day, I’d vote for Jack Saul, deviant though he no doubt was, and through him, Silas, Fecker and all those other lads who had no option but to use the only thing they had to make money, their bodies.

Links:

LGBT History Month
The Sins of Jack Saul by Glenn Chandler
The Sins of the City of the Plain
The Clearwater Mystery Series, by Jackson Marsh

Slumming it in Victorian London

Slumming it in Victorian London

While researching for my Clearwater Series, and ‘Banyak & Fecks’ in particular, I have been investigating the slums of Victorian London. Thanks to books like Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London by Seth Koven, and websites such as www.victorianlondon.org/ and The British Newspaper Archive, I’ve learnt a little about slums and slumming.

You often hear the phrase ‘slumming it’, you may even use it, and you know what it means today. But did you know when and how it originated? (I expect you do, but just in case, I’ll explain anyway.)

Origins of word usage, ‘slumming’

I searched through the newspaper archive looking specifically for the word ‘Slumming’ and found a couple of instances from the 18th century. They interested me because I thought the word didn’t come into use until the mid-19th century. They turned out to be spelling errors and were meant to read ‘summing’, so that made sense. Between 1800 and 1849 there were 77 instances of usage in the newspapers kept in the archive, and early instances were, again, typos, ‘summoning’, ‘slumping’ and similar instead of slumming.

In the second half of the 19th century, however, instances rose sharply to 3,741, and that figure was surpassed in the first half of the 20th century, at 3,799. I wasn’t about to check every single instance, so refined my search to the 1800s, as I am currently writing in that decade, and found most usages came in 1884, January, to be precise. Interestingly, that’s the year when, in my current work in progress, Banyak and Fecker meet.

So, from that basic hunt, I concluded ‘slumming’ as a word began in the mid-19th century, as I thought. But what was it?

This excerpt from The St James Gazette explains it neatly.

[Incurably idle, defiantly vicious, delicious horror, valuable acquisition at dinner parties… just about sums it up!]

Simply put, it became fashionable for the well to do, the West-enders, or middle and upper classes, to take themselves off to the slums of Chelsea, Whitechapel and other places, to see ‘how the other half lived.’ Abhorrent to us these days, perhaps, and the equivalent of rubbernecking a road accident, but that was how things were. Parties would be organised, some daring the streets and slums on their own, others finding a local guide, and not all of them dropping shillings to those whose homes they nosed around in.

Examples from newspapers and publications

There are plenty of mentions in publications of the day, and I picked out just a couple of examples for you.

“Now, then, who will go slumming down Chelsea way? It is apparently as nasty, and is far more convenient for West-enders to get at, by road, rail, and river, than Whitechapel.”

[The Sportsman, July 16th 1887]

Slumming appeared in literature both serious and comedic, such as I found in  ‘A working class tragedy’ by H. J. Bramsbury (chapter XXXVII), which appeared in a publication called Justice, on February 16th 1889.

Click for full size

You might be able to see from the screenshot I took, how a visitor asks if friends would like to go slumming, and when asked what that is, explains: ‘It is quite the thing now. How the poor live is quite the newest idea. You go around and visit the slums as they are called.’

When asked what good it does, the visitor replies, ‘Well, I think it makes one feel thankful that one doesn’t belong to the lower orders.’

‘But what good do the poor derive from it?’

‘Oh, I don’t know that it does them much good except you give them a shilling occasionally… It’s quite astonishing what the interesting inhabitants are willing to do for a shilling.’

We might gape at such an attitude these days, and I’m hoping the story was satirical, but it highlighted not only what slumming was, but the upper classes’ attitude towards it as it because a popular fad. What also caught my attention was the institution that the poor would do ‘astonishing’ things for twelve pence. (Banyak and Fecks charge more or less than a shilling depending on what ‘service’ they provide.)

Slumming even turns up in popular songs of the time, as this verse from ‘The Barrel Organ’ attests.

Since high society first found a pleasure new in “slumming,”
And visiting an East-end court was deemed a task becoming
We’ve oft been told how sad a state the “masses” now are in
And what foul wretchedness is bred of ignorance and gin.

[Quoted in ‘Truth’, February 23rd 1888]

Click for full size

A charitable reason.

Some slummers, you might call them, went to the East End and elsewhere for charitable reasons, to see conditions for themselves, and as slumming became more popular, so more people learnt of the conditions in which the poor lived. You can find a page at Victorian London here which gives an excerpt from Dottings of a Dosser, by Howard J. Goldsmid, 1886, which includes, “Slumming” became a popular amusement; and with this amusement, and the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the matter, the public conscience was salved.

Here is an excerpt from my work in progress, ‘Banyak & Fecks’ (first draft).

On dry nights, the visitors would meet at the stone arch, warm in winter furs but cold with apprehension, speaking in hushed voices and telling each other what they expected to see.
Some came to see what they could do.
‘I believe there is talk of something called the Jew’s Temporary Shelter’, one said. ‘I may contribute to the fund.’
‘I was at Keeble,’ said another. ‘We were instrumental in establishing the Oxford House Settlement. It’s in Bethnal Green.’
It was, and it offered a club for boys, a gymnasium and a library. It hosted concerts for the poor and brought them together beneath the word of God at Bible readings while being occupied by those from the upper-classes keen to experience life side-by-side with the destitute.
‘We must all play our part,’ one woman instructed. ‘It is our Christian duty to help the unfortunates and to understand what they endure. Which reminds me, Marjory, are you invited to Sir Malcolm’s ball?’

So, slumming was a popular pastime in the years my current work in progress is set, and I have used it as a plot device. Now then, if you promise me you understand this is only the first draft, and you will be kind, let me share a little of it with you.

It’s late in 1884, Silas (Banyak) has met Andrej (Fecks), but has not yet found the courage to sell his body on the street. Instead, using his wits, he has noticed slumming tours and decides to set himself up as a guide. As usual, I have taken historical facts and real locations and mixed them with fiction. Silas is taking a group of slummers into Greychurch…

‘First of all, gents, you’ve got your loafers, them as who’s the drones in this working-class hive,’ he would say as he led his party along Cheap Street. ‘Me old dad were what you’d call a loafer, ’cos he’d carry bread baskets from Simpson’s bakery over at Five Dials right across to Old Nichol Street through there, and he’d do it ten times each morning before the sun came up, rain or shine.’ A complete lie, but no-one knew.
He’d done his research and knew his facts, however, and there was enough truth in his speech to satisfy the cynical and put down those who thought they knew more than he did.
‘The Old Nichol,’ he would say, quoting from a publication he’d found, ‘is the place between Shoreditch High Street and Bethnal Green. It’s got twenty streets in it with seven hundred and thirty knackered houses where something like six thousand people live. I don’t want to lose any of you decent folks in there, so we ain’t going in ’cos it’s the worst slum in the East End, and there’s more interesting ones for you gents in Greychurch.’

[If you’ve not read The Clearwater Mysteries, Greychurch is Whitechapel. Silas’ facts about the Old Nichol are true.]

He’d stop outside the doss house to give the lad across the street time to count the number and collect just enough meat pies for his tray. Martin Tucker was somehow related Aunt Molly, and by the time Silas’ party emerged from the doss house, would be on the steps with his angelic face cleaned, his smile broad and inviting, but barefoot in his ragged clothes. On some nights, after selling his pies and slipping Silas a percentage, he’d make eyes at the men in the group, and it wasn’t uncommon for a gentleman to hang back, break from the pack and follow the lad into the next door yard. Martin was thirteen.
‘Not all the men what stays here’s a loafer, but the place is men only.’ Silas continued his talk in the lobby, giving Cormack time to check the room they were going to see, hide any women under the beds and lock the children in a cupboard in case any of the tourists were officials in disguise. ‘Most of the men’s seen better days. They got respectable artisans what the waves of trade-depression has overtaken and submerged.’ Some of his patter was lifted directly from the St. James Gazette. ‘They got clerks elbowed out of a berth by the competition of smart young Germans. There’s men what were once shopkeepers who got ruined ’cos the working-folk couldn’t afford their business. Even professional men like solicitors and surgeons can be found among the motley crowd in a kip-‘ouse kitchen. Right, let’s see a room. You might want to tuck your trousers into your boots, Sir.’
‘Oh? Why.’
‘Nippers, mate. Fleas.’
Some of his paying customers asked him personal questions, such as where he lived, and he was able to reply honestly.
‘I got a little gaff with me best mate, Miss, down Limedock. Andrej his name is.’ The honesty didn’t last for long. ‘Comes from Russian royalty, but got kicked out of his country ’cos he married the wrong girl. They killed his kids and his wife, stole his land, so he had to come here. Now works shifting sugar sacks and rocks down at the Lower Pool.’
‘How tragic. But he is an immigrant?’
‘That’s right, Madam.’
‘And you share lodgings with such a man? Why?’
Sometimes Silas had to fight the temptation to punch his guests. ‘Look at it his way, love. Who’d you rather share a bed with, rats or royalty? Watch where you tread here, someone’s had too much gin and left their lunch on the step. Right, this is where I used to sleep…’

Available on Amazon

Finally

The racism suggested in that scene was prevalent, whipped up by newspapers much as it is today, and took a form of classism. The poor of the East End, the immigrants and refugees, were dragging the city down, taking jobs and spreading disease, so said the newspapers then as some, while slumming it in a different fashion, do today, but that’s a subject for another day.

Banyak & Fecks’ is still being written. It is a prequel to The Clearwater Mysteries and a standalone novel, not a mystery, and not MM Romance. Instead, it is a story of friendship and survival. I aim to have it ready later in 2020.

Researching for Historical Fiction: Victorian London

Researching for Historical Fiction: Victorian London

In this week’s blog, I thought I would share some of my notes on how I’ve been researching my historical fiction series, The Clearwater Mysteries.

My Clearwater ‘bible’ and some research.

Let’s start with the obvious question. “What is historical fiction?” Now, let’s reply with the obvious answer. “Historical Fiction is a literary genre in which the plot takes place in a setting located in the past.” Clearly, that’s not yesterday, but some time further back, and in my case, we’re talking about Victorian times, specifically 1888 and 1889, and even more specifically, England, London in particular.

So, what do I know about Britain 130 years ago? History at school was either 1066, The Tudors, or the Arab-Israeli conflict of the 1960s, not really much help. I do, however, have an interest in Jack the Ripper (1888), have read a few books around the subject and the times, but, until recently, that was as far as my knowledge stretched.

Not the best foundations on which to build a historical fiction series set in the late Victorian period, so, what’s the answer?

Here is a tip: The answer is always research.

You don’t have to be an emeritus professor of literature and history to write historical fiction and, despite what someone might have told you, you don’t have to write about what you know. Tom Clancy didn’t know anything about submarines when he wanted to write ‘The Hunt for Red October’, so what did he do? He researched. Similarly, all I knew about life in Victorian London was from watching TV shows and films, which are not always the most accurate of study tools, nor are some documentaries. So, what did I do?

‘You researched.’
Good, you’re paying attention, but how did I do it, and can I offer any tips for anyone else wanting to write historical fiction? Rather, anyone who wants to write it well? I accept I am not (yet) in the same league as Hilary Mantel or Ken Follett, but whatever I am doing seems to be working. Coming into the genre untrained, as it were, I can also offer some examples of where I’ve gone wrong which may help you avoid the same pitfalls.

So, here are a few of my tips on making your historical fiction more accurate, and, as we’re talking about London in the 1800s, we’ll start at the Ohio State University in 2015.

I found a page on their website that summarised an article, ‘7 Elements of Historical Fiction‘ by author, M.K. Todd, and here, in brief, is my interpretation of those seven elements, with some notes on how I deal with them in the Clearwater Mysteries, set in the late 1880s.

Characters, real or imaginary, must act appropriately to the time.

I am writing about upstairs/downstairs life at Clearwater House and Larkspur Hall, and one thing Archer, Lord Clearwater, would love to do, is treat his servants as his friends. Simply put, he can’t, or at least, he can’t be seen by the outside world to do so, because it simply wasn’t done. That wasn’t how it worked, though there are records of noblemen treating their staff well, even having consensual affairs with, or marrying staff. So, what does Archer do? He promotes them, makes his lover his private secretary, his best friend, his butler, and, in the case of James Wright, makes him a businessman.

My tip here is not to push what was ‘the done thing’ too far, although I do it by making Archer an overly generous man, which, in turn, causes resentment from his peers, and thus gives me some juicy conflict to inject into what are generally feel-good stories.

Dialogue should be accessible to today’s reader with enough about it to appear real for the time.

Yeah, well, okay, but, you know… whatever. Recently, I realised I had used the word ‘okay’ in dialogue in a couple of the Clearwater books, but I am gradually editing out that and other time-inappropriate words. The word okay didn’t come into use until the mid-20th century. Similarly, it’s unlikely anyone said whatever in the way we hear it on TV now, so it’s not just words we must be aware of but turns of phrase. Similarly, many of my characters are gay, but they can’t be, because homosexuality wasn’t in usage until after 1900, and gay, even later, so those words are out.

Tip: If you want to check the usage of a word against your era, Google the word’s definition, and you will find the online dictionary gives the etymology and a convenient graph of instances of usage and popularity. If the graph is flatlining in your era, don’t use that word in dialogue.

Setting. The reader should be placed in the setting of the time from the start, and fall deeper into it as the story goes on.

Putting the date at the top of the first chapter is handy. I first did this in ‘Unspeakable Acts’, the third in the series, and I did it as part of a newspaper headline. The article that followed, written in a style inspired by newspapers of the time, also set up the place and background to the story. It also adds another layer of realism to the book.

That’s another trick I use from time to time, adding in realistic newspaper articles in the correct style as they can give the reader not only a feel for the time, but information and background which might otherwise sound clunky in the narrative. Bram Stoker did this masterfully in Dracula.

Themes must be explored within the context of the time.

The theme of the Clearwater Mysteries is male bonding, which we can then break down into bromance, gay relationships and acceptance of homosexuality. Or, if you like, the theme is about how my gay men survived at a time when prejudice was rife and homosexuality illegal. At the heart of the series is a set of characters who must survive being illegal and unacceptable, a state that surrounds their personal conflicts and happiness. I believe that, as the series develops, the reader takes in the theme subliminally and that heightens the romances and platonic friendships, giving us more fulfilling feel-good moments. You could use this theme in stories set in any era, but the pressures that bear on the characters will vary according to time and place.

Plot must be historically viable of course, and will be shaped by events of the time.

Some of my plots revolve around fictionalised real events, such as the Ripper murders of 1888 (in my case, the victims being rent boys, not women). Other mystery plots in the series involve real people of the time such as Stoker and Irving, places of the time, such as the Royal Opera House, employment such as telegram messenger boys and servants, and even real ships and trains. You’ll see in ‘One of a Pair’ (due out next weekend), there are references to chemicals and medical research that existed in 1889 but were called different names then, and genuine poisoning cases. Even the Adriatic sail-steamer of the White Star Line gets a look-in and description, but the 1871 ship that was replaced with a more famous steamer in 1906, and all travel details in the story are taken from timetables of September 1889, exactly when the story is set. Oh, and many of the laws referred to in ‘Artful Deception’ are, or were, real.

Conflicts must be appropriate to time and place.

Archer’s conflict (wanting his servants to be his friends) is time appropriate, and the gay characters living in times when homosexuality was illegal, are time appropriate, as are the troubles in Andrej (Fecker’s) Ukraine. There are other conflicts, such as Silas and Andrej surviving the streets of the East End by becoming rent boys, because many people turned to prostitution to survive. Other conflicts in the series include Mrs Norwood divorcing her cheating husband without losing her respectability, and Jasper’s treatment at the hands of Earl Kingsclere, which he can do nothing about.

World building. Readers must live in a world of your time beyond your story.

I take this as meaning, you can’t just tell a romantic story in a drawing room, one afternoon in late spring, not unless you are putting on a dodgy amateur dramatic play. The Clearwater world ranges from the intimate, i.e. Archer’s dressing room where his valet dresses him, to the wider world of the servants’ hall below stairs and their everyday life in service. It also ranges from the house to the city around it, and on to the country, and in ‘Artful Deception’, even to Europe. But it’s not just a case of location, there are also things like attitudes, religion, politics, beliefs, manner, etiquette and costume, all of which must be appropriate to the period. These things impact on the behaviour and attitudes of characters both major and minor, and their inclusion, makes the story more believable.

So, how do you achieve all that?
The answer, again, is and always will be, research, which brings me on to a few more tips and recommendations.

Be wary of documentaries.
I was watching an esteemed TV presenter narrating a respectable British series on the Victorians and chatting away knowledgeably about the state of London streets in 1870. One clip they ran showed cars driving around Piccadilly Circus. Er, maybe several years later post 1892, but certainly not in 1870. As the programme didn’t say when the clip was from, it was misleading.

Tip: I watch documentaries and make notes about dates and events, people mentioned and so on, and then double-check them elsewhere, just to be sure.

Read books
Other people’s historical fiction, yes, but again, I’d still check for accuracy unless I’m reading Hilary Mantel or someone I really trust – no offence to fellow writers.

As you can see from the photos, I have a wealth of books on my shelves that cover Victorian architecture, life in stately homes, books on 19th-century fashion, and in particular, ones written by scholars or people of the times. (Tip: Sketches by Boz, Charles Dickens, is a good place to start, especially for the 1830s.) I also have a fair few railway timetables, maps and dictionaries of rhyming slang, dialects and the etymology of words. I love buying books, but when I need a quick-fix fact-check, I download to Kindle as it’s much quicker than waiting for a delivery.

Use the internet wisely
Double-check everything. Don’t take Wikipedia as gospel, it’s much better to search out specialist sites.

Dictionary of Victorian London (click to go to the site)

On which note, I want to finish by pointing you towards The Victorian Dictionary. This invaluable archive was compiled by the author, Lee Jackson, a writer of fiction and fact, some of whose books are also on my shelves. This website has become my first go-to place for research because it gives examples of the time. For example, there are descriptions by writers who visited the London Docks in 18-whenever or saw the depravity of the East End first-hand. Similarly, there are snippets from newspapers and periodicals and other writings of the time about all aspects of life. It has a searchable database with subject headings too, and a bibliography. There’s even a database of Victorian slang which I love to dip into. (It’s mainly from around London as the site is actually http://www.victorianlondon.org/) I’ll do that now and leave you with a couple of random words that you might want to use in dialogue when appropriate to your characters.

Tulips of the goes – the highest order of fashionables
Romoners – fellows pretending to be acquainted with the occult sciences, fortune tellers
Bender – a shilling
Diddle cover – the landlord of a gin shop

I could go on, but I’ve already gone on long enough. My last tip would be, when thinking about writing historical fiction, do your research and make it fun. I have learnt so much over the past couple of years, I am now at the point of being able to insult people without them having a clue what I’ve said!

I will see you next week with details about the next release, ‘One of a Pair’ the Clearwater Mysteries Book Eight.

Coming Next: One of a Pair

Coming Next: One of a Pair

This week, I’m giving you a cover release, or at least, a draft cover release because it’s not quite finished yet. I also want to whet your appetite for the story – without giving away any spoilers.

The next book in the Clearwater Mysteries series is called ‘One of a Pair’ and it follows on from ‘Home From Nowhere’, starting about six weeks after that story finished. For those who enjoyed the start of Jasper’s story in ‘Home’ (and the feedback suggests that was everyone), you’ll be pleased to know that it continues in ‘One of a Pair.’

Now then, I can’t give too much away, but ‘One’ is a mystery, though not in the same vein as the earlier action-led mysteries like ‘Fallen Splendour’ or ‘Artful Deception.’ This is a calmer mystery, though still with tension, and a race to beat the clock. Our lead character is James Wright, now a private investigator in his own right. Here is part of the blurb for the back cover:

Enlisting the brilliant but scatter-brained Dr Markland for help while mentoring Jasper through the pain of first love, James embarks on a mystery that takes him from the Greychurch morgue to Queenstown in Ireland where tide and time wait for no man. It is a journey of discovery, both scientific and emotional.

I had great fun writing this one because it involves a suspected poisoning. Not that someone being poisoned is fun, but researching poisoning in Victorian times was. The fun part was finding something that was not your standard 19th-century toxin (and I can’t tell you what those were without spoiling the story for you), and I turned to my brother for help. My brother, by the way, is not a poisoner, but he was a chemist, as in, someone who works with chemicals. My nephew was of great help too as he studied medical genetics, and from that, you can see where the scientists are in our family! They were of great help in identifying the more unusual and little-known facts about certain chemicals and helped me put some of the scientific parts of ‘One of a Pair’ together. My problem was then finding out what such things were called in 1889 when the story is set. All I can tell you is that much of what you read is factual, or at least, possible, but some of the chemical names I have used are made up.

Don’t think that ‘One’ is going to be all formulas and compounds, it’s not. I have injected some humour into the story, as well as love and ‘ah’ moments, pace and tension. You’ll find Thomas isn’t too happy about… something, Mrs Norwood is playing ‘mother’ to the boys, Dr Markland shows his genius, and there’s a fair amount of domestic detail below-stairs at Clearwater House. As usual, I turned to another friend of mine for train journey details and all things railways, and the timings are accurate based on his ancient copy of Bradshaw’s Railways Timetables, as are the details about the White Star Line and their liners.

Enough about the story, back to the cover. I thought about this for a long time because I wanted to show a representation of one of the characters. I’m never sure whether this is a good idea, because every reader forms their own image of what the characters look like, and to put one so obviously on the cover can distract the imagination. I did it for ‘Deviant Desire’ where you can clearly see Archer and Silas, and the same model appears as Silas on the cover of ‘Unspeakable Acts.’ For other covers, Andjela K, my cover designer, has used silhouettes, so for ‘Twisted Tracks’ we see Archer and Silas running for a train, ‘Fallen Splendour’ shows a man on a charger, and the man could be Archer or Fecker. The cover of ‘Bitter Bloodline’ shows the back of Dorjan, the assassin, and ‘Artful Deception’ shows a man on fire, but we can’t see his face. ‘Home From Nowhere’ is obviously Jasper and Billy up on the roof, but we don’t see their faces, but for ‘One of a Pair’ I thought we should see Jasper… or is it someone else? The image isn’t yet finished because the chap on the front should be holding a smoking test tube which Andjela K hasn’t yet fitted in, but otherwise, it’s there.

Before you scroll down to the cover image, if you haven’t already, I just want to let you know that ‘One of a Pair’ is going off for proof reading on September 10th, and that means, it should be available around the 24th, maybe sooner. You’ll know when it’s available from my Facebook page, and you can always sign up to the newsletter to get more news. I send out a newsletter each month to keep in touch with everyone, and unlike other authors, I don’t use them to advertise everyone else’s books, only my own, so there is also a newsletter when a release happens.

And finally… The cover as it stands now.

One of a Pair

One of a Pair, the Clearwater Mysteries, book eight, draft cover

Ps. I had to disable comments on the blog/site because of spammers, but if you have any comments about the cover or anything else, feel free to put them on my Facebook page.