Let’s all go Down the Strand

Let’s all go Down the Strand

“Let’s All Go Down the Strand” is a popular British music hall song of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, written by Harry Castling and C. W. Murphy. It was first performed by Castling and was published in 1909. It was inspired by the Strand, a street in Westminster, Central London, that in the late 19th century became a centre for theatres, hotels and music halls. [Wikipedia]

It’s also the song that has the famous interjection, ‘Have a banana!’ Or, as I say here in Greece, ‘Have a moussaka.’ The interjection, however, was a later addition and apparently came from the audience, not the writer’s. The point of bringing this up is to introduce you to the setting for book three of my new Delamere Files series of Victorian, MM romantic mysteries. What happened to books one and two, you may ask?

Delamere Series

Book one, ‘Finding a Way’ is already out on Amazon, and is doing very well. Book two, ‘A Fall from Grace’ should be available before the end of October. While that is being proofed, and while I wait for the illustration and cover, I have begun research and plotting for book three, currently titled, ‘Silence and Limelight.’

Silence and Limelight

Silence and Limelight was the title of a musical I wrote for an amateur theatre company donkey’s years ago, but this story is completely different. I always liked the title for its paradox (I think that’s what it is), and it fitted well with the story I have in mind for Delamere three. The story takes as its background the London Music Hall, a form of entertainment which rose during the 19th century and lasted into the 20th century when it became more commonly known as Variety (Vaudeville in America). From there, it can be said, we saw the rise of the stage musical which has now, tragically, become a vaguely creative retelling of Disney stories or biographies of musicians with the core stitched together using unoriginal songs. Don’t get me started on that! Instead, let me start with a few words by a chap called F. Anstey, written in 1891, the year before ‘Silence and Limelight’ is set. The piece I am quoting from is titled ‘London Musci Halls’ and it is his experience of viewing such theatrical establishments, not all of which he approved or enjoyed.

London Music Halls

Ansty starts with this:

LONDON music halls might be roughly grouped into four classes—first, the aristocratic variety theatre of the West End, chiefly found in the immediate neighbourhood of Leicester Square; then the smaller and less aristocratic West End halls; next, the large bourgeois music halls of the less fashionable parts and in the suburbs; last, the minor music halls of the poor and squalid districts. The audiences, as might be expected, correspond to the social scale of the particular place of entertainment, but the differences in the performances provided by the four classes of music halls are far less strongly marked.

You have to understand the Victorian zeitgeist and not be offended by words such as ‘poor and squalid.’ If you are offended by such historical descriptions, you shouldn’t be reading about history. Only, you should, because without all the triumphs and horrors of history, we would not learn how to emulate or prevent them in our future. But don’t get me started on attempts to erase history and make everything ‘woke’ either!

Ansty then tells us about a first-class music hall venue and it sounds terribly smart and very you, and he approves. He even approves of the clog dancer and the ‘serpent man’ (a contortionist) perhaps because squeezed between the two was a young lady reciting Tennyson and other poets.

However, then he comes to the next tier of music hall venues, the smaller and less aristocratic West End halls of which he says:

It is unnecessary to describe the second class of music halls, in which neither audience nor entertainment presents any characteristic features.

Right, so that’s that then! What’s interesting to note is that he is as interested in the audience as he is in the entertainment.

The third tier of London’s music halls, he introduces thus:

Both externally and internally the bourgeois and suburban music hall differs considerably from its more fashionable rival. For one thing, it is generally dingier and gaudier of appearance; the entrance is covered with huge posters and adorned with tea-garden plaster statues bearing coloured lamps; the walls are lined with tarnished looking-glass, gilded trellis-work, or virgin cork. Sometimes there is a skittle-alley or a shooting-gallery in the “Grand Lounge.”

The Roman Road music hall, preserved.

Then we come to the world of Jack Merrit’s father, that well-known (for all the wrong reasons) and not much lauded music hall entertainer, Samson Merrit, who famously died on stage in March 1891, and, according to the press, died while singing with Marie Lloyd.

As my first draft of my first paragraph of Silence and Limelight reads:

When, on the night of the thirteenth of March 1891, Samson Merrit dropped dead on stage, the only person in the Griffin Music Hall who knew it wasn’t part of his act was Mr Merrit himself.

As another aside, H. Chance Newton, writing in 1902, says of the Griffin, by then under a new name and management:

Round the corner in Shoreditch is the London Music-Hall, wherein the stranger who pays his first visit will undoubtedly fancy for the nonce that he has lost his way and has by accident strayed into one of the best West- End halls.

(In those days, for the nonce meant for the one purpose, and only meant what we now know it to mean in slang.)

Meanwhile, back to Mr Ansty. Having described various acts and venues of his first three tiers of the music hall, he comes to the lowest of the low (in his opinion), and the kind of music hall my character Samson Merrit appeared at. Mr Ansty says:

Music halls of the fourth and lowest class are perhaps the most characteristic, and certainly not the least entertaining, although a visit to one of them makes a stronger demand upon one’s powers of physical endurance.

He follows this with an often-amusing description of what he saw and heard while his nose was upturned, but also praises the place for its honesty and lack of pretention. Of the audience, he says:

They rock with laughter, the whole pit swaying like a field of wheat in a breeze. Those who assert that the London poor are a joyless class, incapable of merriment, should see this crowd when genuinely amused, and consider whether there is not some exaggeration in descriptions of their hopeless gloom.

Marie lloyd

This is all fodder for my research canon, and I am very much enjoying reading such articles. I am also reading a biography of Marie Lloyd, one of the most famous stars of the time, and awaiting an out-of-date copy of a book about the Gaiety Theatre in Aldwych, London, as more background reading.

Meanwhile, I have made a basic plot outline of ‘Silence and Limelight’, mapping not only the mystery but also the relationship between Jack Merrit and his attraction to men, Larkin Chase in particular. If you have read ‘Finding a Way’, you will be pleased to know that what was left hanging at the end is cut down and dissected in ‘A Fall from Grace.’

That’s all I am saying about book two, except: Its background world is a British public school, and I will write more about it on my blog on Wednesday as I continue to work on book three.

Dictionary of Victorian London

The above quotes are taken from Dictionary of Victorian London, a massively researched collection of all things Victorian in print, created by Lee Jackson, and launched in 2001. It is one of my main resources for writing of the time.

Lee Jackson has published many books about Victorian London, and you can find them on his Amazon Page.

The online resource quoted here can be found in Dictionary of Victorian London.

A Fall from Grace: Update

Hello, and welcome to your update on ‘A Fall from Grace’, the Delamere Files book two.

The first draft is finished! I’ve been through the story and transferred it from my head to my typowriter, but I am still surrounded by notes stuck to my writing station, and my notebook overfloweth with more.

Now, I begin the task of editing the story before going back to edit the text. There are many fine details in this story which, although the reader doesn’t need to remember them, need to add up and tie in for the overall picture to accurately emerge. Not only am I developing three characters I only created in the last novel, and developing some of those we met in previous series, but I am also introducing a couple of new ones, for the purpose of this story alone. Each character must be themselves, and that’s easy to do with my quirky, eccentric folk, but not so easy with a protagonist and antagonist neither of whom are onstage for long.

As for those quirky characters who have a scene here and there (or in this case, only here as they only appear once), they are fun to write. You will meet mad Mrs Hogg and her famous hat, and the decrepit chairman of the Old Sinfordians who suffers from a, then, undiagnosed condition we, today, would call something else. A bit like Will who has OCD, but which, in 1892, wasn’t called that but probably considered some kind of mental deformity which it isn’t. In Will’s case, he calls it his ‘preciseness’, which is a far more appealing term than compulsive or obsessive and I don’t consider it a disorder either… But, let’s not get into all of that…

I found this chap online and wondered if it might be Will Merrit.

What you came here for is to learn that draft one is finished and topped off at 104,000 words, with about 95% of them correctly spelt. The first editing job will take me a week or so, and the second, a little longer. Meanwhile, I must turn my attention to blurbs and covers and saving to pay the proofreader and layout designers and all that jazz, while being aware that if I want any clues laid down in ‘A Fall from Grace’ that impact book three, I need to get them in there now.

So, back to work for me, and don’t forget to tune into Saturday’s blog when you can read more of the original, unpublished, opening of ‘Finding a Way.’

Also, don’t forget the Book Funnel promotion and the wealth of LGTBQ+ romantic mysteries on offers from a wide range of authors. Here’s the link to click:



Finding a Way: Background Chapters – part three

Over the last two Saturdays, I’ve shown you the original first chapter of ‘Finding a Way.’ Today, you have the first half of the original, unpublished second chapter. If you’ve read the book, you’ll notice that some of what is in here made it into the final draft. It wasn’t until I was about halfway through the story that I realised a couple of events in this cut chapter were needed after all, so I took the sections from here and reworked them into a later chapter. That’s how it goes!

The second part will be up next Saturday. On Wednesday, I will tell you the latest news about ‘A Fall from Grace’, the Delamere Files series part two.

I also have a promotion running, or rather, am part of one. You should have received a newsletter email about this (if you’re not on the list, the link is at the top of the page in the menu). If you want, you can head straight to the Book Funnel page and see what LGBTQ+ Romantic Mystery novels are currently on offer.

Here’s the first half of the original second chapter of Finding a Way:



The cabmen kept their word, and Jack kept his. Rising at five each day to study maps by lantern light, he followed Uncle Bob’s instructions, and learnt the street names one square at a time. The younger cabbie, Charlie Flex, who Jack took to instantly, gave him the tricks of linking streets in his mind, remembering patterns, and told him what to listen for.

‘A list of names ain’t no good no no-one when the fog’s in, you can’t see a dog’s dick’s length ahead, and you’re travelling blind,’ Charlie told him on their fourth night out. ‘It’s then you need to know how the roads sound.’


‘Yer. Listen to the wheels and the nag’s hooves. We’re on Kingsland Road, see? Pits, knocks, gravel here and there, get it?’


‘Now, turn next left by the Dodgy George, and we’ll be in Harman Street, and how do I know that?’

‘’Cos Pearson Street’s on the right going north.’

‘Good man. Listen how the sound changes. Getting towards poorer parts here, see? Dreadful road. Not flat. What’s next?’

‘Straight on and we’ll cross Hoxton Road.’

‘Good man. So, what if I want Ivy?’

‘Street or Lane, Sir?’

Charlie had told Jack to treat him as a customer, and to be polite no matter how drunk, obnoxious or hostile his fares were, and had worked with him on previous nights to better his language.

‘I want the Lane, but wait a minute. Close your eyes. It’s alright, Blister knows what she’s about. Go on, and you’ll know when you’re in Ivy Lane.’

Jack did as he was told, and with the ribbons slack in his hands, allowed the horse to lead. When he felt a jolt, he thought his companion had unbalanced the hansom, but it was the cab dipping, twice, and then the only sound came from Blister’s horseshoes.

‘Double drain beside the Turkish bathhouse,’ Charlie said, as Jack looked behind. ‘A good marker on a dark and foggy night, and there’s loads more to get to know. Now, let’s say I want to get to De Beauvoir.’

‘Square, Crescent or Road, Sir?’

‘Square. How will you get me there?’

‘Easy, Sir. Quickest is back to Kingsland, north, over the canal…’ A while later, Jack continued his commentary. ‘Next right’s Hertford, but it’s a dead end, and I ain’t leaving my fare to walk, not if he’s rich enough to live in De Beauvoir. Two right turns on is De Beauvoir Road, but before that, there’s Mortimer, and that leads straight into the square where I’ll ask him which side.’

‘Well done,’ Charlie said, and gave him a matey hug before letting go to tighten his coat against the night.

It was only a touch, but it meant something. The pair were snuggled in close on the bench. Built only for one, the space was cramped, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. In fact, there was something reassuring about being forced close to Charlie, a married man in his thirties, a supporter of the temperance movement and a nonconformist churchgoer. However, it wasn’t the thought of Charlie’s abstinence or piety that thrilled Jack and made his heart skip, nor was it the praise he gave when Jack made the turns with accuracy. Nor was it the friendship shown to him by Uncle Bob and his colleagues, and particularly by Charlie, who had encouraged and praised him the most. There was something else; something undefinable caused by the brief hug. It was only a show of manly support, and as affectionate as anyone had been with him, but because it came from a man and not doting old Ida nor daft young Will, it brought a sensation that chilled as much as it thrilled. If Charlie knew what reaction his touch had caused, he’d likely throw him from the bench and drive the hansom over him, church-going or not, because that was how men were taught to react to the abnormal interests of other men, an interest that had been stirring within Jack for some years now. Always denied, never expressed, but impossible to ignore, the thought that he was somehow different to normal men plagued his mind when he allowed it to, and although he kept the thought as deeply covered as he could, it rose to the surface in moments such as the one that had just passed.

To send it back to the depths, he remained silent and listened to the wheels and hooves.

‘Smoother road,’ he said. ‘And here’s the square, Sir.’

‘Good. Now, you got the Hackney map in your head?’

‘I have.’

‘Then, cabbie, I want to go first to Haggerston Park, then on to Limehouse. We’ll finish there. Quickest route, if you will, it’s damn freezing.’

The weather became colder as the weeks passed, but no matter if the night was marred by rain or was clear of cloud, and no matter if there was fog or snow, Jack took up his place with one of the cabmen, and drove. His days became a routine of learning maps, walking to the docks, doing his duties there, returning home, putting pennies in the food jar, and shillings in the rent pot, spending an hour with Will, and walking to Limedock station to start his five hours learning the knowledge. Ida was successful in claiming a little from the church to see them through Reggie’s illness, and Will took in some sewing, using what little he earnt to pay doctors. A stream of learned men came to the dwelling, each one poking this and asking that, but all any could say was that Reggie’s condition would never change. In fact, he would deteriorate, one said, and Ida should be saving for a funeral in the spring.

When it came, spring brought no change in Jack’s routine, though, by then, the long days had begun to take their toll. Sleep was the only break from the grind, and it came quicker and deeper. If it weren’t for Mary the knocker-up, he’d not have seen the mornings, and if it wasn’t for Will’s meticulousness in preparing Jack’s clothing and meal pack for work, he’d not have eaten. When he caught influenza, Will and Ida rallied around, forced him to stay abed for three whole days, while, despite his lame leg, Johnny Clarke from next door took Jack’s place at the docks, so he wouldn’t lose his job. Johnny took the wages for those days, of course, but his mother, Elsie, had a good run on her straw bonnet making, and was able to lend the family the shillings Jack had lost. There were no rides out during those nights. Instead, Jack studied his maps and had Will test him, even though his head thumped, his stomach was weak, and he could hardly speak.

‘Essex Street to Trafalgar Square,’ Will challenged.

‘Essex Street, Temple?’

‘Yes, from that Essex Street.’

The image of several squares flashed across Jack’s internal vision, black and grey lines, blocks, typeface and symbols, quickly replaced by the actual image of the streets, and Charlie beside him for the first part, Albert Cranny for the second.

‘It’s a dead end, so I’d turn her north, up to Saint Clement Danes, left into the Strand and straight down to Trafalgar. Try something harder.’

‘I will when you get that one right.’

‘I did. Ain’t no easier way.’

‘Ah, but there is a faster way,’ Will said, mopping Jack’s brow. ‘You could have turned left into Little Essex Street, right at the printworks on Milford Lane, and reached the Strand without having to wait for the traffic coming out of Temple Bar. You’d have saved a couple of minutes.’

Jack wasn’t surprised he’d missed a cut-through, he was surprised that Will had given him the correction without looking at the map.

‘You been learning these with me?’ he croaked.

‘Of course,’ Will replied, seemingly just as surprised that Jack needed to ask.

The influenza still had a grip on Jack when he returned to work, but he sweated it out, as Elsie Clarke said he should, and he returned to his routine of study, labouring, driving and learning, until one day in April, when, on returning from the docks, he found Uncle Bob, Albert and Charlie gathered at Reggie’s bedside. Ida was crying in the kitchen room, and Will was pacing the few steps from the sink to the window agitated, and counting seconds.

‘What is it?’ Jack said, throwing down his lunch pale, instantly knowing something was wrong.

‘Saying goodbye. Sixty. Twelfth minute, one, two…’

‘The doctor just left,’ Ida sniffed. ‘You best go in.’

Reggie was dying, Uncle Bob said, and seeing Jack’s consternation, laid a hand on his shoulder and told him he’d not got long.

‘You’re nearly there, Skip. You’ll get your licence in a week or so. Believe me.’

‘Believe in yourself,’ Charlie said as he also prepared to leave. ‘I’ll miss our time on the bench, Jack, but if you ever want to ride out, just to be alone, you can call on me, yeah?’

It was a troubled moment. On the one hand, Jack’s eyes were fixed on Reggie’s white face, and his drooping, sunken eyes, while all he could hear was Charlie offering to be alone and giving a strange message as if in code.

‘Just to talk,’ Charlie said, and left Jack wondering if he’d read his thoughts.

Alone with his grandfather, Jack sat beside him and took his limp hand, while in the background came sobs and numbers.

‘You going, Reggie?’ he whispered.

Reggie’s reply was a mumble, and a gasp, but the head made a tiny nodding movement, and his face screwed up as he concentrated.

‘You… Willie…’ the words were more than faltering, but Jack listened with patience. ‘Take care… My… Ida. Your… Brother…’ A sucking-in of saliva, a faint gasp. ‘Need you.’

‘I’ll look after your Ida, Granddad, don’t you worry.’ Determined to be the man, Jack held back tears. ‘I’ve nearly got it. I’ll have your old hansom back on the streets right soon.’

‘Promise you’ll… remember… Willie… is… Special.’

‘I know. He’s very special to me.’

‘Not stupid. Special.’

‘Shush, granddad. Rest.’

‘No… Point. Will… Special’

Ida and Will joined them, standing by the death bed, their sadness wrapped by acceptance, and with Will now silently mouthing his numbers as he counted the time from the doctor’s diagnosis to the moment Reggie Merrit drew his last breath.

‘Sixteen minutes, twenty-two seconds,’ he said, as Ida closed her husband’s eyelids, and lay her head on his chest.

Jack stared at the scene, hollow, exhausted, and frightened for what he now had to take on, but trepidation vanished when Will, his counting concluded, took him in his arms, and hugged him tighter than he’d ever done.

‘We’ll manage,’ he said. ‘I got my brother, you got yours. I love you, Jack.’

Jack filled his lungs, gripped his brother, and swallowed.

‘Love you too.’

‘Was it the enemas?’

Jack found it hard not to chuckle. His brother was one moment sincere, the next, innocent, but always, as Reggie had said with his last breath, special.

‘No, it wasn’t that.’

‘He’s with God now.’ Ida stood, and straightened her apron as if they’d just finished a meal and the table had to be cleared. ‘I best get the neighbours in. Willie, put water to boil for washing him, and fetch the towels from the drawer. He picked out his suit and his cabbie’s tie. Bob will tell the others at the rank, Jack, so you find the vicar. We’ll bury him proper at Tower Hamlets. I’ve been saving. The men’ll want to follow in their cabs, tell the vicar that, and say we only need a short service by the grave. It’s in a decent spot and there’s a place for me alongside.’


‘No time to grieve, son. We’ve work to do.’

As Ida predicted and wanted, Reggie was escorted to his grave by a line of hansom cabs, with Jack driving behind the funeral cart supervised by Uncle Bob, and Reggie’s other friends following. The service was simple and silent, save for the vicar’s words, but the gathering at the Waterman’s Arms afterwards was a boisterous celebration of one man’s long life.

That done, and the black crepe removed from the kitchen mirror, Jack’s life returned to what it had been as if the man who’d brought him up hadn’t existed. The only reminder was a photograph of Reggie in his coffin, donated by his cabbie colleagues as a memorial, and placed above the bedroom mantelpiece by Ida.

‘You boys will soon have this room to yourself,’ she said, looking at it with fondness. ‘I can’t leave him to his own devices for long.’

‘Don’t say that, Grandma,’ Will complained.

‘A bed to yourself, Willie. Look forward to it,’ she replied. ‘No, you won’t have to wait long.’

Continued next Saturday.

Meanwhile, take a look at what’s on offer here:

The Delamere Files: Progress

Finding a Way

I released the first in the new series of The Delamere Files last week, and the story is up and running. Finding a Way introduces us to new characters in the Clearwater world of London in 1892, and sets the scene for things to come with a case involving a London cabbie, a criminal gang and a couple of characters from the previous two series. It is too early to say how the series will run in terms of popularity, but it’s off to a reasonable start after its release.

A Fall from Grace

The second book continues the main relationships between the principal characters with a change in circumstances and a new investigation. I am still working through the first draft, and my desk is still covered with notes and charts as I keep an eye on all the details developing through the story.

I am now at 77,000 words and approaching the crisis, climax, ‘smoking gun’ reveal, and the aftermath sections, which should take me nicely to the target 100,000 words, before I set about the rewrites and tidying up. Last night, I had something of a ‘that’s too obvious’ moment, which I have noted and will address as I progress to the crisis, which I aim to do later today.

As for a release date… I am aiming to have this book finished and ready to go by the end of September, so if you are reading book one, you won’t have to wait too long for book two.

The Clearwater Calendar

Also this week, I have been putting together a wall calendar for 2024. We have just released Neil’s Symi Dream calendar, a thing he has done every year since he had his photo business on the island. We use a company that produces good-quality products that showcase Neil’s photography, and the calendars have proved very popular. We were talking about it the other day when one of us suggested I make one based on the Clearwater front covers. Lo and behold, when I returned to the computer, I’d had exactly the same suggestion from one of my supporters (thanks, Loz, great minds and all that). I have spent the last few days putting something together and have ordered a trial one to see how it looks. All being well, you will be able to order a Clearwater calendar in plenty of time for the end of the year. More news to come in time. For now, it’s back to the keyboard, my new mystery, and my approaching crisis which will, after a twist, lead to a climax, and the Delamere Files will move forward.


Cover Reveal: Finding a Way

Finding a Way is the first book in the new Delamere Files series, and today, you can see the full cover for the first time.

This series begins in June 1892, six months after the Larkspur Mysteries ended. It is set in the Clearwater world of late Victorian England, and some characters from the Clearwater and Larkspur mysteries appear or are mentioned, but they are not the main cast.

If you have read the Clearwater collection, you will know that Delamere House is the property next door to Clearwater House in London. It is where Lady Marshall used to live, and the building is owned by Lord Clearwater. In the early 1890s, it became the headquarters for the Clearwater Detective Agency under James Wright and is also the house where Joe Tanner and Dalston Blaze live. The house appears later in ‘Finding a Way’, and will feature more as the series continues.

However, ‘Finding a Way’ is not about Delamere House, it is about Jack Merrit, a young London cabbie with a heap of challenges who finds himself unwittingly involved in the solving of a crime. Around this central story is a story of self-acceptance, coming out (as we’d call it these days), and a very slow-burn love story that will develop through several of the books to come.

‘Finding a Way’ will be available in August, and I will let you know when it is published. Meanwhile, here is the blurb as it stands now, and below that, the title. Click on the title to see the cover and meet two of the cast.

Finding a Way

The Delamere Files book one

It began with a man sobbing in the night.

Twenty-five-year-old Jack Merrit struggles to make a living as a London cabbie, and when he is robbed by a fare, he can see no future for himself and his beloved younger brother, Will.

Enter Larkin Chase. A dashing writer of social observations and a man in search of love. After learning Jack’s story, Larkin sees the chance for him to earn a twenty-pound reward. All he has to do is identify the pair of crooks that robbed him.

The crooks, however, are at the top of the heap of a notorious East End gang who know no boundaries when it comes to silencing a witness. With Jack’s world crumbling around him, he is drawn to Larkin by an unnatural desire which he must either fight or allow if he is to see justice done and win his reward. When an equally dashing young detective arrives on the scene, Jack’s life becomes even more complicated, and when the criminal gang exact their revenge, he is set on a life-or-death quest that will forever change his life. Or end it.

Cover Reveal

Click the image to open the full front cover.