Finding a Way: Background Chapters – part two

Today, as promised, you have the second part of the first chapter of ‘Finding a Way’ that was cut and replaced with the first chapter as you have it now… Confused? Don’t be.

Last Saturday we had part one, and today part two, so you can always go back to last week’s post to start from the beginning. This chapter (and the one I will post next week), constituted the original opening for the book. I later decided they were more about me telling myself the backstory, and I ditched them, using only the salient parts in the final draft.

Just to remind you, this is 1st draft material and has not been properly proofread.

Will was more than Jack’s best friend and brother; he was also his responsibility and had been since he was born. On the outside, his younger brother was as fit and able as any twenty-year-old, as bonny as any other young man who lived on a diet of whatever Grandma Ida could find for the few shillings remaining after Reggie’s cab week, and although narrow of body, he was not underfed and never looked starved. It was inside that his problem lay, a problem no doctor had yet been able to name or treat.

Whatever the name for his strangeness, Will was not an imbecile. Jack had taught him to read and write, their grandmother had taught him to sew and wash clothes, but no employer would entertain him on account of his mannerisms; the way chairs had to be square-on to the table, the cutlery perpendicular, the plates washed twice, and the bedding turned down just so. There were never complaints or tantrums if these things were not done to Will’s satisfaction, he would merely move the furniture he thought out of place, or brush the dust from the blanket, turn the pot on the stove to the correct angle, or untie Jack’s boot laces when left by the door, and set them straight. To the family, this was just how Will was, but to anyone else, they were signs of inherent madness, and to strangers, that made him untrustworthy.

When his brother was twelve, Jack persuaded his foreman to give Will a day ticket to work. He wanted to prove to himself and the family that his brother could do more than read books, or stare at the embroidery hanging over the mantelpiece until, driven by frustration, he took it down, unpicked every strand, and sewed it back together because one stitch had been incorrect. Jack had faith in him, and Will was keen to show he could be useful.

The foreman was not impressed. Charged with stacking the sacks Jack was unloading from a clipper, Will was set to work in a warehouse where older, gruffer men swore and whistled as they hauled and handled. Having delivered his first load, and shown Will what to do, Jack returned to the ship to take on a second wagon-full and drove the cart back to the stores. There, to his dismay, he found Will had set the sacks in a line, opened them, and was transferring grain from one to the other so that each was exactly the same level. They were discovered before Jack could put things right, and Will was dismissed on the spot. Had Jack not spent years in the docks lifting and carrying, tending horses, and making himself invaluable, he too would have been out of work, but he was strong, reliable and never complained. The foreman docked him two day’s pay, and told him to ‘Get that idiot out of my stores,’ and he never tried the experiment again.

Will was not an idiot, and neither was Jack. It was clear to see that without two incomes, the family would soon be homeless. The rooms were not big enough to take in lodgers, although apartments with ten in two rooms was not uncommon in their street, but Ida had standards, and they were to be kept no matter the pain in the stomach or the chill in the air. It was bad enough for four of them to sleep in one room, live and eat in the other, and share the privy with four families, so renting out space was not an option. Nor was increasing his hours at the docks, because the company didn’t allow that, and neither would it have been possible for him to find night work and labour twenty-four hours a day.

There was only one way Jack could think of to earn enough to support everyone, and it involved a walk, a lot of thinking and a risk. If the first stage of his barely thought-out plan was a success, several months of hard work would follow, and that would have to be done while he continued to work his docker’s ticket. At some point, there would be a test, and he would need a license, but he was a fast learner, and already knew the layout of the East End. Learning the rest would take time, but it was not an impossible task and, thanks to Reggie’s years on the rank, he had contacts.

One of them was exactly where Jack knew he would be, smoking his pipe outside Limehouse railway station, chatting to another cabman, and complaining about the weather. On seeing Jack, the old man removed his cap and waved it towards his hansom while throwing up his arms.

‘Reggie can’t work,’ Jack called ahead. ‘Had a fit.’


‘Had a fit,’ he repeated when he arrived, hot but not out of breath after the long walk. ‘Can’t work no more.’

‘Why, you be pulling a me leg, ain’t you, Skip?’

Mr Hart had called Jack that name since he could remember. Skip Jacks were the boys of nag dealers, employed to ride them during sales, and Jack was good with horses.

‘Ain’t, Mr Hart. Grandad got a shock and fell down. Doctor says there’s no getting him right.’

Jack told him what had happened, and Hart passed on the news to his fellow cabmen, all of whom offered their sympathies and promised to visit when they could.

‘Yeah, well, he don’t need sympathy and hellos,’ Jack said, filling his pipe as the men returned to their groups and fares. ‘He needs a favour, Mr Hart. Rather, I do, and I was hoping you’d help me out with it.’

‘I’ll do what I can, son, but I’m guessing you’re heading for the lend of money, and I can’t ask the Mission to help you with that.’

‘That’s not it. I got my six days a week at West India. It won’t keep us for long, and I ain’t got none put by, none of has, but I got a plan, and I need your help with it.’

‘Not following you, Skip,’ Mr Hart said, holding a match to the bowl of Jack’s pipe.

‘Knowledge, Mr Hart, that’s what I want. Can you help me with it?’

‘Now you’re thinking I’m some schoolteacher? You sure it ain’t you what’s had a fit?’

‘No. I need to learn the streets.’

One of the first things Jack remembered about his grandfather’s oldest friend was the way his eyebrows met in the middle when he pulled a face. He was sure he’d done it to him as a baby, because behind him in the distant vision, were Reggie and Ida, laughing, and Jack could recall stretching out a hand and touching the strange man’s side whiskers. They had been black then, but now they were as white as a new sheet, as were his eyebrows which met, not to cause laughter, but in confusion.


‘How long will it take me? I know most of Whitechapel and Limehouse, Millwall of course, and far up as Mile End, but…’

‘Now hang on, Skip. What you saying? You want to take over Reggie’s cab?’

‘That’s the measure of it.’

‘You can’t just do that. ’Ere!’ Hart called to another on the rank. ‘Skip thinks he can get up there and nick our job quick as you like. Wants to learn the knowledge.’

‘Let him,’ one of the others called down from his seat before snapping his whip and clattering into traffic.

‘Yer, get started now, Skip, and you might be driving come Christmas,’ another encouraged. ‘You understand the nags, you only got a learn the rest.’

‘Christmas next year at least,’ Mr Hart said. ‘You can’t just get in a cab and off you go, Son. You got a learn…’

‘The streets. I know, and you know them, and you know what’s the easiest way for me to remember them. Will you learn me?’

‘What, just like that?’ Hart flicked away the match and laughed. ‘Getting the test’ll take you two years, and you never stop learning. They keep putting in new roads, new buildings going up, even new bloody bridges, which, I admit, are easier to find. You got a know not only your patch, but anywhere from Enfield to Epsom, what theatres chuck out what time, what master’s yard offers decent rates, and none of them do, not no more. Then there’s your charges. How you going to start if you ain’t got nothing put by? No, Son, you want to step into Reggie’s shoes, then get yourself better docking. You’re built for that, so stick to it. You’ve always been good at lifting and carting, you don’t want a be sitting up there in all weathers freezing your Tommy’s off, and getting the rheumatism from the wind. You’ll turn to drink when you’re bored, and there’s never a guarantee you’re going to make any more than the East India pays you.’

Jack had expected this and, on his way, had made his calculations.

‘I see it this way, Mr Hart. I get twenty-four shillings a week from the docks. If Grandma Ida can get some poor relief on the rent for a couple of months, my pay’ll cover all else, with some put aside. Hold on…’ Pointing his pipe prevented the old man from interrupting. ‘I know what you’re going to say. Reggie was putting out over a hundred and fifty pounds a year to rent the hansom and horse, right? It’s twelve shillings a week for winter, up to nineteen ’round Derby and Ascot weeks, but at that time, I can make three quid on each ride to the races, and it’s back to eleven a week come August. To pay the hire, yard and boy, I got to make ten shillings a day, six days a week to keep even, but there’s more than five million potential fares a day out there, so I reckon there’s room for me. I got the costs in me head, and I know what I’ll need to pay for the house and Will on top. You know Will can’t work much on account of his strangeness, but he’s been taking in some sewing, and now we’re going to need medicines for Reggie, and Ida’s getting along towards seventy, though she takes in a bit of washing. I thought it through, Mr Hart. I just need to know how to learn the streets, and how to get me licence. I’ll rent from Harris on me own badge same as you and Reggie. Now then, you’ve been Reggie’s best man since before me dad was born—Oh, he died last night, by the way, but none of us is bothered. So, I reckon, if you want to help your oldest mate, right now dribbling down his chin cos one half of him’s not working, the least you can do is point me in the right direction.’

‘That was quite a speech,’ someone said after a moment’s silence. ‘The lad’s thought about it.’

Other cabbies had come to listen, because there was never much to do at that time of day in Limehouse, and the next train wasn’t due in for ten minutes.

‘Yeah. Thought about it for the half hour it took him to walk over,’ Mr Hart said, studying Jack with his yellowing eyes and sympathetic frown. ‘Your dad died?’

‘Yeah. Fell down at the feet of Marie Lloyd halfway through the gallery song. Dead as a donkey. Probably got the biggest applause of his career, but I ain’t bothered about him. Now, what d’you say?’

‘I say it’s a pretty rubbish song in any case, Skip.’

‘The knowledge?’

Mr Hart stared at him and shook his head in resignation. ‘Two year at least,’ he warned. ‘That’s what it’ll take you. You got over two hundred miles of streets, more than twenty thousand street names, the routes, cut-throughs, tolls, the way the police watch you, and how things work. That’s without trying to make ten bob a day. Think you can do it?’

‘I don’t need you to put me off, Uncle Bob, I need you to help me out, and help out Reggie and Ida, but mainly, I need you to help me help Will. What d’you say?’

Maybe it was because he’d called him Uncle Bob, and been familiar rather than polite, but the old man’s eyes narrowed as he sucked on his dead pipe, and he glanced at his colleagues gathered to the side, his white eyebrows asking the question on his behalf.

‘If he’s got the stamina and the brains,’ a cabman said.

‘He’s got them alright,’ Hart muttered as if jealous. ‘But the time?’

‘I can put in five or six hours a night, and all day Sundays,’ Jack said. ‘That’d still give me time to sleep.’

‘The nipper’s got it all planned, Bob. No changing his mind.’

‘There ain’t.’

‘But I got to sleep an’all, Skip.’

‘Ah, you’re getting old,’ another cabman laughed. ‘The way I see it, young Jack, is this. Us men what wait and drive, drive and wait, we look after our own, and Reggie’s one of us, so that makes you family an’all. I’d be happy to take you out a couple of hours one night a week.’

‘Yeah, and me on Sundays,’ said another. ‘Least, a few times.’

‘Scottie’s the best for the cut-throughs,’ another said. ‘He’ll do it, won’t you?’

‘Who’ll pay me?’


‘Keep your bible out of it, Stan,’ someone laughed. ‘The lad’s keen, he’s quick, and most of all, he’s Reggie’s boy. I’ll learn him the West End.’

Charlie, a younger cabbie, volunteered to teach Jack south of the river and the bridges, while others offered their time here and there, but only because he was Reggie Merrit’s grandson, and cabmen were a fraternity, and before Jack had a chance to thank them, or take in the enormity of what he’d started, even Mr Hart agreed to teach him one night each week, although they all decided Jack would have to pay part of the cab hire because they would be working longer hours.

‘Study hard, Jack, and you’ll get your badge,’ Hart said. ‘I’ll have a word with Harris, he’s slippery, but the easiest to hire from, and he’s got a lad at the stables who’ll teach you the tack and traces.’

‘I’m ahead of you there, Uncle Bob. Been carting nearly ten years, ain’t I?’

‘True enough, but it’s different.’

‘When can I start?’

‘You can start right now,’ the younger driver said. ‘You can ride with me. Me nag ain’t called Blister for nothing, she’ll pull the extra weight.’

Mr Hart gave a final sigh of defeat. ‘Alright, Skip. There’s more than seven thousand of us on the stands, another won’t make a difference.’

You can find ‘Finding a Way’ on Amazon, paperback, Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.

Chapter two, part one will be posted next Saturday.

Two at Once. WIP 6:12

Finding a Way

The two-at-once scenario persists. I am giving ‘Finding a Way’ my almost final read-through before sending it to be proofed. After that, I will do another read before setting a release date. Andjela has provided me with several cover ideas, and I have chosen one. By the look of the cover, I have invented a new TV detective series set in the late 1800s, which is (almost) what I intended. Dazzling, who does my illustrations, is working on a character drawing of one of the MCs, because I like dropping them at the front of the books these days, and I am still fussing about whether the book is any good or not, but that’s par for the course. (It is good, but because it gives us new characters, I always worry about what’s going to happen to them.)

Fall From Grace

Meanwhile, book two in the new series has a title and 45,000 words of a slowly evolving mystery, during which my main character starts to find his feet as a Clearwater detective and as a recently able-to-be-out gay man in 1892.

Where book one is more of an introduction/prequel than a mystery, book two starts off with a case. A client charges my new detective with finding a missing man. My newbie, Jack Merrit, is being tutored by old hand, Jimmy Wright, and is finding the transition… Well, I’m not saying too much right now as I’m not even halfway through, but I know where I am going – though the characters don’t yet know what’s in store (insert an evil laugh), and I know how things are going to work out in the end.

The end will, of course, lead to book three… But that’s a way down the line right now.

The Series

I was going to keep details of the new series quiet for as long as possible, but I’m getting to the stage where I have to start dropping teasers and hints. So, I can now give you the title, font and subtitle that will accompany the new books, and the first one will look like this:

The Delamere Files, eh? Uh huh. Each one (after book one) will be a case for my trainee detective. I intend to keep my three main characters and build them and their relationships as they find their way through this new world of being investigators of one sort or another, and around them, I’ll build more traditional mysteries than the sometimes-outlandish ones we have in Clearwater and Larkspur. (All of which were perfectly feasible, and some of which actually happened.) While all that is going on, favourites from Clearwater and Larkspur will give us guest appearances, and the main characters of Jack Merrit, Will Merrit, and Larkin Chase will develop, fall in and fall out, and… who knows what else.

So, that’s where I am right now. I am heading back to book two, chapter 11, somewhere in West Kent in July 1892, and a graveyard…

WIP: At Sixes and Sevens

I’m not, actually. Not at sixes and sevens, that is, but I am working on book two of the new series, which would be work in progress seven since I started the WIP blog, and I am also working on the first in the series, which would be WIP six. The first is almost complete, I am doing my ‘last edit before proofing’ but haven’t set a date for proofing yet, because I need to be further into book two first. So, unusually for me, I have two major works on the go at the same time. We also have family visiting, which means fewer working hours, but I’m still up at 3.00 each morning to get started and make the most of the time I have.

Where did the expression ‘at sixes and sevens’ come from?

Here’s an aside. First of all, this is an idiom, a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words. (Deducible: possible to discover based on the information or evidence that is available.)

Grammarist. Usage of the idiom over time.

According to The idiom at sixes and sevens came out of the 14th century from an old dice game where throwing a six or a seven was filled with risk and uncertainty. It appeared in Chaucer’s work “Troilus and Criseyde,” back in 1374, and the excerpt read, “Lat nat this wrechched wo thyn herte gnawe, But manly set the world on sexe and seuene.”

Those last words are six and seven in Old English. (Just in case, like me, you were asleep when they did Chaucer at school.) Good old Wonkipedia agrees that the idiom evolved from a card game, and adds: William Shakespeare uses a similar phrase in Richard II (around 1595), “But time will not permit: all is uneven, And every thing is left at six and seven“.


Currently, my desk is surrounded by pieces of paper stuck to the shelves, and beside my open notebook. This is because book two in the new Delamere (or Clearwater Detective Agency) series involves a lot of detail in its backstory, and I have to keep track. A man is missing, and it falls to the newly appointed detective’s assistants, Jack and Will Merrit to investigate. While they are doing this, Jack is still coming to terms with his feelings for Larkin Chase but is confused by his feelings towards his new boss, James.

The typing corner in my workhouse today.

The story fits into the Clearwater world, after ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ and is set in London. A couple of Clearwater/Larkspur characters have made appearances in the first and now, second, book, but it’s not about the Clearwater crew, as the previous series were. It’s about my new MC, Jack Merrit, a handsome hansom driver with a very ‘precise’ younger brother, and how they find themselves rocketed from Limehouse to Knightsbridge, poor to middle class, through a series of unexpected circumstances. As per my usual, there is a mystery to solve, action and adventure, and in this case, a slow-burn love story that, over the course of several books, will see the MC travel from longing to lust to losing, to…? At least, that’s the plan.

I am currently on 28,000 words of book two, which doesn’t yet have a title, but which is inspired by ‘Men of a Similar Heart’ a story I wanted to tell, but one which didn’t fit into the Clearwater world. Until now.

Symi Dream Blog

By the way, as soon as I have posted this, I am off to post on my other blog, SymiDream. If you want to see the non-story side of me and where I live, then bookmark that blog which I update around five times per week with all kinds of island chat and other matters. Whatever takes my fancy really. Today, I am talking about this blog a little, so it makes sense on this one to talk a little about that one…

You see what I mean about being at sixes and sevens? Lol.

See you back here on Saturday.

The Delamare Files

Looking Ahead and Thinking Aloud

Today, I think ahead to what you can expect from me next in a post that is something of a therapeutic ramble for me, and hopefully, an interesting read for you.

The New Series

As you will read on Wednesday, I have completed the first draft of the first book in the new series, and have still not settled on a title for the book or a subtitle for the series. I know how the series is to run, and I am looking forward to it unravelling over the coming months, and I also know it is to be a second spinoff from the Clearwater series. It will be set in the Clearwater world in London in 1892, following the adventures of the Larkspur Series, and yet, it won’t be directly related to either of the two series that have gone before. The new series will revolve around Delamere House, home of the Clearwater Detective Agency, and characters from the past stories will make appearances in supporting roles, as and when needed.

The main characters in the new series are to be:

Jack Merrit, a London cabbie from Limehouse, aged 25.
Will Merrit, his brother, a man who is very ‘precise’, aged 21.
Larkin Chase, an investigative journalist, aged 30.

Book One

In book one, the reader will also meet five characters from the previous series playing supporting roles. There are also new villains and a new ‘feel’ to the series. Let’s say, it’s more of a classic detective-story vibe, yet has all the Jackson Marsh elements of coming to terms with being gay at a time when it was illegal, first love (and sex), good Vs evil, men supporting men, class divide, action, adventure, humour and, of course, mystery.

Book one isn’t so much of a mystery, however, and is a fully contained story acting as an introduction to what will come next, which will be a mashup of Victorian mystery, MM Romance, Bromance, adventure, Action and a little bit of bonkerness from some quirky characters.

Book Two

Book two… Well, I am starting that today while book one sits and matures in my head before I address the final writes and edits. Once I am happy book two will run, I will set about releasing book one, with the second instalment coming a month or so later.

Meanwhile, I might already have a title for book two in ‘The Delamere Files’ series (just one idea), and that is ‘The Sinford Scandal’ (just another idea). The background to the story I have in mind came about some time ago while I was writing Clearwater and Larkspur books, but it didn’t fit into their flow. So… After telling you all that, here’s a little about what you can expect in the new series, or at least, the kind of story you can expect once book one is published, and the series is up and running later this year.

These notes are from my original draft of ‘Men of a Similar Heart’, a book I never wrote, but a title I very much like.

I used one of my favourite techniques for my second attempt to start this story, I opened with a newspaper cutting. This device is useful for many reasons: it can set the back story, it can give a deadline (as it does at the start of ‘Unspeakable Acts’), and it can set up the mystery, as it does in this case.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette

Monday, November 26th, 1877

Tragedy At Sinford's
A grim discovery was made on Friday last at Sinford's School for Boys, Moorside. On rousing the men of Drake House, the Housemaster, Rev. D Spencer discovered a student absent from his bed, and soon after when searching for the pupil, was confronted with a scene of great tragedy. 
The body of Luc Verdier was discovered in the attic of the building hanging from a rafter by a rope fashioned into an ill-formed, but fatal noose about his neck. Verdier, we are told, was the son of a diplomat of the French Embassy and had attended Sinford's since coming up from prep school. Rev. Spencer described him as a highly intelligent young man with a proclivity towards physical sportsmanship, vice-captain of the First XI, first seat oarsman and holder of the school trophy for the javelin and other athletic pursuits. A well-liked and admired young man, Rev. Spencer described him as a friend to all and an enemy to no-one. The Housemaster has also said that he can think of no reason why Mr Verdier should wish to end his life, and reported the pupil had shown no signs of anxiety or distress in the days or weeks before the tragedy.
The police have issued a statement. Pupils of the house are all seniors and have been interviewed in the presence of Rev. Spencer and their Headmaster, but no further information concerning Verdier's state of mind has come to light. His study companion stated that Verdier was in his bed and sleeping before the lights were extinguished for the night, and spent an untroubled night despite, he said, of a dream which woke him once. Unable to say exactly what time he awoke, the pupil was able to confirm that Verdier was still abed and asleep at that time.
No other statements have been made about the case save for a message from the Headmaster, made through the Plymouth constabulary. In it, Headmaster McKay, BSc, asks for privacy for the school at this difficult time, a request, The Gazette shall, of course, honour.

This is the event that will, years later, lead to an intriguing mystery that will come with a deadline, a race against time and a few unexpected twists. At least, that’s the plan.


You know, writing this blog post at 4.00 in the morning has helped me put the future into focus. The more I witter on here, the more I like the sound of ‘The Delamere Files’, and the keener I am to start mapping book two. It will need to come out pretty soon after book one because some storylines in book one remain unresolved, and I won’t want to keep you hanging around. So, I shall be away now, and do just that; start a new story back-to-back with the last one, leaving book one in a state of second draftness until it is time to return to it.


Talking of blogs, if you are interested to read my personal ‘Living on a Greek island’ blog, I am starting it up again after a two-year lunch break. It will go live tomorrow, Sunday, and I’ll be posting nonsense and images about island life on a more or less regular basis while keeping up my usual Jackson Saturday and Wednesday blog posts here. It will be nice to welcome you to where James and Jackson meet.

WIP: 6.09. First Draft Complete

The update news today is the first draft of the first book in the next series is complete, except for a short chapter at the end to move us forward to book two, lots of editing and some rewriting, the proofing, cover, layout and, most importantly, the title.


I’ve spoken about titles before and how they sometimes come out of the text, other times from a flash of inspiration in an unlikely moment, and sometimes, even before I start work on draft one. In this case, the title isn’t coming at all, though I have a list of ideas noted down as I have been writing; none of which have yet struck me as being ideal. They include:

471 Kingsland Road
The Cabman’s Adventure
The Cabman’s Knowledge
The Knowledge
The Driver and the Fare
The Cabbie and the Fare
Merrit & Chase
Something That’s a Play on Words about Cabbies Having the Knowledge of London Streets and Self Knowledge, or Street Names, or Roads, or…

And Onwards…

The current word count is 103,000, and that’s without the sections I have cut; two chapters of backstory, an introduction written by one of the main characters, half of chapter 21, and the complete first draft of the final chapter which I have completely rewritten. I am still editing out repetition and sections that are in the wrong place, and those I read back and think, ‘What on earth was I trying to say here?’

Today, I will be continuing my reread from where I left off yesterday at chapter eight (out of 26), and will continue to agonise over the title. What’s not changed, however, is the original idea, that the story is based on a piece from the 1870s by James Greenwood, though the novel is set in 1892, and the images of my two main characters. Rather, my main character, Jack Merrit, and the impact character, Larkin Chase. The impact character (IC) is who the main character comes up against and the one who doesn’t change, thus, he has an impact on the MC who has to change for us to have an emotionally driven story.

Larkin Chase is my IC, and Jack is the MC. In this novel, we have archetypal characters in the classic storytelling, hero’s journey tradition. Jack, the reluctant hero, has a sidekick, his brother Will, who also acts as the mentor character. Larkin Chase is the protagonist and IC. We have an antagonist in the form of a gang of East End criminals, shapeshifters (not the fantasy story kind) in the varying shapes of waterboys, servants and cabbies, and we have the voice of reason character in the form of someone you will recognise if you have read the Clearwater and Larkspur series. I will say no more…

What we don’t yet have is a title or cover idea, but that will come later. Meanwhile, as I return to the typo-writer, I’ll leave you with images of the MC and the IC, one or both of whom may end up on the cover beneath the title…. Whatever.

Jack Merrit, a young cab driver
Larkin Chase, an investigator of social injustices