Guest Post from Merry Farmer

Today I am excited to welcome, fellow MM Author, Merry Farmer to the blog. Merry has just celebrated the latest release in her Slippery Slope Series set amongst the gay club scene of 1890’s New York.

So, whilst my Clearwater Crew were solving mysteries in London and Cornwall let’s sit back and learn a little about what was happening on the other side of the Atlantic. Welcome Merry!

The Gay Club Scene of New York…in the 1890s

I have to giggle a little. Before I had even published the first book in my new series, The Slippery Slope—A Touch of Romance—I had people raising an eyebrow at me, scoffing, and saying “The gay club scene of the 1890s????” Saying that as though there couldn’t possibly be any way that gay men were able to live their lives openly, let alone had a thriving club scene back then.

This makes me giddy, because it means I get to share some of that lost knowledge that historians of the mid-20th century so effectively (and regrettably) swept under the carpet. Because the fact of the matter is that there was a concerted effort on the part of historians in “the golden years” of the 20th century to brainwash everyone into thinking that gay men have always been in the closet, ashamed of themselves, and terrified of coming out, lest they be killed.

Guess what? The truth couldn’t be further from that. While it’s true that there were laws against sodomy (in England) and gay marriage was a century off, the acceptance of alternative lifestyles has waxed and waned throughout history. It’s hard for some people to believe, but prior to the 20th century, there were actually times when the LGBTQ community was left alone or, even, yes, allowed to thrive without too much interference.

For most people prior to the 20th century, a big part of this was because ALL stories of intimacy and anything that so much as hinted at sexual relationships—even heterosexual intimacy and relationships—was something people just didn’t talk about openly. Period. And when there isn’t a microscope or social media coverage focused on you twenty-four/seven, people are able to get away with so much more than we in the era of instant communication can comprehend.

But when it came to the gay club scene of New York City—specifically The Bowery—in the 1890s, things were as open and publicized as could be.

The Bowery 1905

The Bowery was well known for being a center of “sin” within New York City. The clubs and brothels that filled downtown became so popular that new slang terms were invented by young people from uptown, from outside of the city, and even tourists coming from overseas, to describe it. “Going slumming” was so popular that guide books to the seedier clubs were produced so that visitors could get their fill. Clubs in The Bowery that featured drag queens (also a historically accurate term of the era) and male prostitutes were some of the favorite “dives” for people to visit.

The Bowery Queen. A drag performer circa 1890s
“The Bowery Queen.” Drag performer images circa 1890s
(https://www.boweryalliance.org/did-you-know-this-about-the-bowery/)

For the men who made the clubs of The Bowery their home—or their home away from home—however, these places provided a much-needed safe haven where they could be themselves, if only in the evenings and on the weekends. In his seminal work Gay New York, historian George Chauncey writes at length, using first-hand accounts collected and recorded from the 1920s through the 1960s by men who lived in this scene, about the lives gay men lived there.

The club scene of the 1890s and early part of the 20th century was a place where the rules weren’t just relaxed, they were thrown out the window. Though it was illegal to cross-dress in public in New York during this era, presentation of all sorts was accepted and encouraged in clubs like The Slide (the actual club I’ve modeled the club in my series on). Even though The Slide was raided by police and closed down in 1891, its patrons simply moved their activities to other clubs in The Bowery and resumed the wild good times that they had enjoyed there.

The clubs were more than just scenes of debauchery and excitement, though. They were places where men could be themselves, if only for a while. The very term “coming out” was coined as a result of the “debutante balls” that were held in clubs in New York—ones in The Bowery, but also clubs that catered specifically to men of color in locations like Harlem—where gay men presented themselves as their more feminine persona for the first time. These coming out balls were so popular that they were reported on in newspapers of the time, and they were considered highlight events for people of all levels and types of societies.

My hope in writing The Slippery Slope series is to capture some of this exciting time in LGBTQ History, and to shed light on the things that have been deliberately buried by biased historians. George Chauncey is just one of many historians working in this “new” area of study, and I’m certain that even more, fascinating information will come out in years to come that will further change our view of what life was like for gay men back then.


A Touch of Romance, released 15th April

Blurb

He crossed the ocean to escape from love…

Journalist Marcus Albright did not run away from his London home when he accepted an assignment in New York City. His interest in writing a series of articles about the popular club scene of The Bowery has nothing to do with the disastrous end of a long-term relationship, or his desire to stay as far away from love and commitment that he possibly can. His only concern is enjoying the vibrancy and color that The Slippery Slope is famous for.

…but love has other plans…

Jasper Werther loves his wild, flamboyant life, but the moment Marcus steps into The Slippery Slope, he knows he wants more. Particularly after spending a romantic night out on the town with Marcus as his drag persona, Blaise Rose. After waiting a lifetime for acceptance of everything he is, Jasper believes it’s finally within his grasp.

…until heartbreak strikes.

When a policeman with ambitions threatens to shut down The Slippery Slope, Jasper has a bigger problem than trying to woo a man who has sworn never to fall in love again. Everything within Marcus tells him not to get involved, but he is drawn back to Jasper, no matter how hard he fights it. Will Jasper and Marcus get a second chance at love, or will the pain of the past keep them apart?

Fall in love with romance, a high society ball, a wild, downtown party, a trip to Coney Island, a colorful cast of characters, and a last-minute confession that will keep you turning pages!

PLEASE BE ADVISED: Steam level – very spicy! And yes, this is an m/m romance involving friends to lovers, second chances, and fabulous drag queens, so if that’s not your thing, feel free to pass on this one.

You can keep up to date with Merry’s news at http://merryfarmer.net and she invites you to sign up for her quarterly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/RQ-KX

Coming Soon!


Seeing Through Shadows

The Larkspur Mysteries Book Four

I thought it was time I told you a little more about ‘Seeing Through Shadows’, the fourth book in The Larkspur Mysteries series, the series that continues from the highly popular ‘Clearwater Mysteries.’

The previous Larkspur story, ‘Agents of the Truth’ concluded on 31st October, 1890, and ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ is set in January 1891.

However, October 31st was an important date for its main character, an erudite young man of twenty-two called Chester Cadman. As Lord Clearwater was hosting his annual charity ball at Larkspur, and as Dalston Blaze was chasing a potential assassin, Chester Cadman was in London, working for a mapmaker and indulging in one of his favourite pastimes: debunking the spiritual entertainments offered by Mr Maskelyen and Mr Cooke.

These stage productions were popular in Victorian times, and you can find advertisements for such things in the newspaper archives, and elsewhere. Chester was attending one at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, and while there, met another, equally handsome, young man called William Barnes. The following day, Chester’s life changed—but I’m not going to tell you how because I don’t want to give away any spoilers.

The Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, London, was an exhibition hall built in the ancient Egyptian style in 1812, to the designs of Peter Frederick Robinson.

The Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly

Long demolished, this West End venue was home to a museum, art exhibitions, Victorian ‘freak shows’ and magic shows. Victorian magic duo John Nevil Maskelyne (1839-1917) and George Alfred Cooke (1825-1905) hosted a show at the venue for 31 years. It’s been claimed Maskelyne invented the illusion of levitation, as well as the coin-operated toilet lock. [Memoirs of a Metro Girl, a London culture and history blog.] January 1891

When I began ‘Seeing through Shadows’, I had no idea how it was going to unfold. Then, after writing the first chapter, I knew where I was heading, and spent a couple of days at the writing desk, plotting, planning, and inventing a fair amount of history. Along with factual history, I invented 18 Viscounts Clearwater, their birth and death dates, and the year they came to the title. I also had to refine and define the history of Larkspur Abbey, how it was affected by the Dissolution, when it was extended, altered and re-landscaped, and several other historical points. Why? Well, because the novel’s action plot focuses on a recurrence of a historical haunting, and that’s all I can say about that, for now.

Back to that first chapter. When I started it, I didn’t know who my main character was to be. I often do that; I think of a name, age, big event from the past and set that character against a plot device on which to hang a mystery, and decide who is to be his impact character. (An impact character’s role is very simple: they are there to inspire, enable, or somehow make another character change. Usually the other character is the main character or protagonist.) The first paragraph I wrote for ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ came from nowhere, but I knew it was a good place to start, because all good stories start with a railway journey. ‘Shadows’ opens with:

The Cornish Riviera Express en route to Cornwall January 1891

Chester Cadman turned his attention away from the passing scenery and wondered if he hadn’t made another terrible mistake. His travelling companion was a quiet stranger to whom he had handed his wellbeing and future, and he had put his life in the hands of men he knew nothing about. Again.

The Cornish Riviera Express

A Classic Mashup

I guess ‘Shadows’ is one of my classic mashups. Along with a mystery that needs solving, we have a story of developing love, and there are a couple of sexually charged scenes in this novel. Not full-on descriptive scenes as there are in ‘Deviant Desire’ or my Mentor series, but something more subtle and, I hope, imagination fuelling. There is also some humour from our regular cast, Frank Andino ( read his recent interview here) and Fleet, and we meet two new academy men, Henry and Edward, who, I imagine, will come to the fore in a future novel. Dalston and Joe are in the story now and then, too, but they are about to head to London for their new lives, which may well lead into the third series, ‘The Delamere Mysteries’ next year.

Meanwhile, at Larkspur Hall, Thomas Payne becomes our protagonist because Clearwater is away in London dealing with something which will become a Delamere Mystery in the future. Barnaby Nancarrow, the country’s youngest butler, makes an appearance, and some other Hall characters are developed a little more. While all that’s going on, Chester is adjusting to his new life, conflicted about his feelings for someone, desperate to please Clearwater and repay his kindness, and generally turning heads among the academy men.

Seeing Through Shadows’ is one of those stories where, along with the main character, the reader is invited to work out what the hell is going on. Unlike ‘Agents of the Truth’, there is no villain as such, and no-one’s life is in danger. ‘Shadows’ progresses through several twists, and chapters tend to conclude with a ‘What if?’ or an emotional or mysterious cliff hanger. There are also inserts where the mystery is seen from an unusual perspective. Only short sections, but ones which are intended to lend atmosphere and, of course, mystery. These were interesting to write as events are seen from the perspective of an owl, a fox and a cat. I’ll leave you with just such an excerpt. I’ve not yet fully edited this, but here is what I have at the moment. It’s from the end of a chapter later in the story, the night before the ‘great reveal’ when the mystery is explained, and it’s one of the inserts as seen from an owl’s point of view.

Not all was harmonious with the night, however, and the owl ruffled its feathers in a shiver of disquiet. Off to the west, something unrequited was advancing through the fragile air. It was still at a distance, but it was coming from across the moor, beneath the ground, making its steady path towards the hall as it had done before. Unstoppable, it would appear and disappear; it was real, and it was ethereal; it was alive where it lived, and yet it would die if it stayed there. Something that couldn’t be laid to rest until it was understood, its appearance was inevitable.
Nervous, the owl screeched its disapproval, and fell from the battlements, wings spread. The uplift took her high above the sloping tiles and the last of the drifting woodsmoke, the treetops and moorland, and she circled wide and slowly to the Academy House where her interest lay. Passing the sleeping outbuildings, the yards, and windows dark with the hour, she came to one aglow, and landed on the sill.
Within, flames swayed on the last of their wicks, languid as they burned away time. Their faint light withdrew from corners to candles as they died, and drew their cast across carpet, over chairs, through a field of jumbled clothing, to the cliff edge of the bed. Ascending as it faded, the light lasted just long enough for the owl to see the shape of two men, naked, entwined, fulfilled and dreaming.
The ground was laid for the inevitable, and knowing there was nothing she could do but watch, the owl dropped from the window and once again became one with the night.

‘Seeing Through Shadows’ is due for release later this month.

Happy Birthday Lord Clearwater

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


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

The coming congress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HMS Brittania entering Portsmouth UK

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

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

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

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

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

Silas Hawkins, street-rat and renter

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

Larkspur Hall Inspiration

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

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

Character Interview with Frank Andino from The Larkspur Academy

Frank Andino was one of the first men to join the Larkspur Academy. In July 1890, when we first enter Academy House in ‘Guardians of the Poor’, Frank is already there. The narrator introduces him thus: the dark man who had sworn had a more familiar East End accent and was known for using swearwords in every other sentence.

Frank certainly uses colourful language, as you will see.

Frank Andino plays a major part in the 4th Larkspur Mystery (due out in April 2022), so I thought it was time we knew a little more about him. Just after New Year 1891, when he was twenty years old, I met him in the comfortable drawing room of Academy House and asked him a few probing questions.

Hello, Frank. Let’s start with the basics. Can you tell me your full name and if you have any nicknames?

Yeah, alright, if you must. Me name…? If you want the full whack, try putting your lips around Ozias Philimonas Andinopoulos.

I s’pose Frank’s me nickname, and I’ll tell you why. There ain’t too many Greeks in London, see, and we had the tailoring business. You put up a shop sign saying Tailoring by Athanasios Andinopoulos and Son, and not only won’t you get much trade, you’d run out of flippin’ paint. Athanasios is me dad, see. Calls himself Tony. Calls me Frank ’cos it’s more English. Easier to fit in when you’re an immigrant.

So, you weren’t born in London?

No, mate. Fucking Greek, ain’t I? Mind you, I was only born in Greece. Came to London when I was a moro—a baby—so that’s all I’ve ever known.

I can see you quite clearly, of course, but for our readers, can you describe your features so they can picture you?

Yeah, alright. About five feet seven, strong build, see. Stocky, they call it. But furry, dark skin, handsome as fuck. [He winks at me in a suggestive manner.] Black hair, bit curly. Dark brown eyes, a smile that melts a man’s heart… Usual kind of Greek looks. Classic Greek grower down there, too, if you know what I mean.

I didn’t, so I asked, and he treated me to a description of his private parts.

Want to see?

No, thank you. Let’s move on.

Tell me about your childhood.

Bloody marvellous, mate. Except it weren’t, of course. Me mum and dad, see, they came over in 1870. They was living in a small village on a small island, and there weren’t nothing going on apart from fishing and farming, and me dad had bigger aspirations than looking after goats and fucking sheep. I mean… just goats and sheep. So, he borrowed some money from the family, and just after I were born, got us a passage on a steamer. Came to London, found work easy enough ’cos he’s a talented tailor, and after a few years of that, set himself up with his own shop, Tony Andino, Tailors. Don’t need such a big shop sign, see.

Anyway, they had a decent income. I got the basic schooling but didn’t pay much attention to it, ’cos it were all words and shit, but I was really good with numbers. Most days, I’d help me dad behind the shop, picking up scraps, sweeping, he taught me how to stitch then line-out, use patterns, cut and stuff, so I ended up working in the shop with him instead of going to school. This were in Greychurch, not far from Shoreditch where there was a good tailoring trade, see? Me mum had fucked off by them. Some grimy French sailor, me dad said, but whatever. Me and dad worked the shop from when I were about ten up to last year.So, me childhood… Well, it were alright, I suppose. Work, mainly. Work and counting numbers, ’cos I’ve always been fascinated by numbers. Sewing. Did a lot of that. Didn’t have much mates ’cos the Greeks in London, see, well, there ain’t so many of us, but me dad did make me learn the fucking language, so at least I speak both now. Probably speak Greek better than I do bloody English.

Next?

Next, I’d like to get personal.

Bet you would, malaka. Nah, go on. What?

You are twenty now, and you are living in a house with other men… of a similar heart, we might say. Have you become friends with any of them? Or more than friends?

I’m everyone’s mate. Joe, the deaf bloke, he’s me mate. Then there’s Clem. I’m helping him set up a business ’cos that’s his talent, but he ain’t so good with accounts and shit, and that’s what I do. Dalston’s a good mate too, but as for more than friends? You mean sex and that, yeah? Being honest, no, not got anyone like that.

But you’d like to have someone?

Wouldn’t we all, malaka? Yeah, ’course I would. I mean, I won’t lie to you. When I first saw Dalston, I thought, ‘Fuck, he’s a handsome lad, wouldn’t mind having a go around that lanky body and see what he’s hiding in his slant pockets. You know, what’s he got behind his fly piece? I’d love to measure the inseam from the lower ankle to the crotch bottom and above, if you get me. But Dalston was already stitched up with Joe, so that was out. Since then… No, not got anyone special, but all me mates are special, and I’d do anything for them.

You’ve not had a first kiss yet then?

Fuck off, ’course I have. But I ain’t telling you about it.

Oh, alright then. I was sixteen, and he was a tar off the ships down Limehouse, and it only lasted, like, three seconds ’cos he was drunk and thought I was a Ratcliffe whore. Long story. Too much beer, not enough gas light.

And an accidental kiss is as far as you’ve gone?

Oh no, mate. I gone further than that. I had to when me dad got put inside. Had to make a living somehow. That’s how I ended up down the alleys of Greychurch with the other lads, putting it about for a sixpence so’s we could eat. Not saying it’s the best way of making a shilling ’cos it ain’t. It’s dirty, dangerous and a bit more than dodgy, what with the rozzers on one side and the creeps and crazies on the other. Still, when you’re young, got a fit frame, no shame and a fucking Greek grower… Well, Lord Sir Ponsonby Ponce will pay a good guinea for a good grinding. Only thing is, as the lads said, you got a be ready to be ground if you want to make a pound.

I see. And does that mean you don’t believe in true love, or finding a soul mate?

Why should it? It were a job, that renting lark, but it’s in me past now. I would say it were behind me, but that’s where it was a lot of the time, and having your face pressed against a slimy Greychurch wall ain’t the way to find true love. But I still believe in it.

One day, someone’s going to come along, and soon as I see him, I’ll know. It’ll feel right, like two halves of the same pattern coming together in one seam.

Here, look at this… [He takes out his pocket watch.] Don’t know how he knows what to write, but every man at the academy gets one of these from Fleet, see? We’re here for a couple of days, and one of these pops up, and everyone’s’ is different. He gets the backs engraved with something, and mine says, ‘Love is one soul in two bodies.’ Fleet said it were his version of something said by this bloke called Aristotle, but it’s what I believe, so there you go.

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

Me mates. Next?

Who do you look up to?

Dalston ’cos he’s six feet tall. Mr Andrej at the stables ’cos he’s six feet four. Nah, only joking. I’d say me dad, ’cos he took the rap for me and went to gaol when it were me what fiddled the tax, but apart from him, I have to say Fleet.

He’s the man who runs the Larkspur Academy, yes?’

He’s a fucking nutter, is what Fleet is, but yeah, he somehow runs this place. He ain’t a teacher, but he is a professor, or was. He ain’t a dad figure, though he’s always there with some bit of advice when you need it. He knows just about everything about anything, and he’s right smart.  Dresses like a clown, and has some weird habits, but he always knows the right thing to say at the right time, though he never tells you what to do.

And what is the greatest thing Fleet has taught you since you have been living at the academy?

Bloody hell… That’s a hard one. You don’t actually know Fleet is teaching you anything, see? Not at the time. But later, you realise he’s said something you took in, and he were dead right about it. Er… He teaches us words, how to get along… The main thing, though, I s’pose, is that he’s taught me it ain’t wrong to be loyal to your mates, ’cos in this world, if you ain’t got mates, what have you got?

I understand the academy is only a temporary arrangement. With that in mind, where do you see yourself in five years?

How the fuck do I know, malaka?

Yeah, you’re right, though. Some men have only stayed a couple of months here before Lord Clearwater’s organisation found them a decent job and place to live. Others, like me and Clem, we’ve been here eight months already, but there’s no pressure for you to move on or nothing. Right now, I’m helping Clem organise his business what he’s doing with His Lordship, and Fleet says I should put me mind to bookkeeping, but we’ll see. Me dad’s getting out of debtor’s prison soon-ish, and I’d like to bring him down here to Cornwall and set him up somewhere, so I might go back to tailoring, accounting, but probably not renting, though I don’t mind a bit of anonymous tickle-tail now and then.

What I’d like though, would be to have a safe place to be with me man, whoever that turns out to be. Don’t mind where, nor what I’m doing, being honest, as long as I got good mates to look after and a beau to be with. We’ll see, though. Like I always say, you take each day as it slaps you round the head, and fucking get on with it.

We are running out of time, so just two more questions. Tell me, Frank, just for fun, what do you have in your pocket right now?

You’re a nosey fucker, ain’t ya? Right now, I got me pocket watch in me waistcoat, an handkerchief in me jacket along with… Ten shillings and sixpence ha’penny, and a note to remind me to… Oh, shit. I forgot to do that. Never mind. And in me trousers, I got me classic Greek grower hanging at five but ready to go to seven. Next?

Finally, I understand there have been sightings of a ghost on the Larkspur estate. What is your take on that?

Bloody hell, malaka, why didn’t you ask me this before? This kind of thing’s right up me back jacksie ’cos me dad saw a ghost once. Yeah, I don’t know what’s been going on out there, but people are talking of seeing this weird thing late at night, and they’ve been hearing strange noises inside the Hall as well. Arthur… he’s one of the lads what works in the kitchens, but comes over here to deliver messages and shit… He says some of the maids are thinking of leaving ’cos they’re scared. You don’t need to be scared of ghosts, I say, you just got to believe in them. Arthur said, His Lordship and Mr Payne, his steward what runs the estate, they’s thinking of bringing in someone to hunt it, you know, like they do. Don’t know who, mind you, but if they don’t sort it out soon, he’s not going to have any staff left.

You’ve not seen it yet?

No, mate. But I hope to.

You think ghosts are real?

’Course I fucking do, and I tell you what, given half a chance, I’ll prove it.


The fourth book in The Larkspur Mystery series is due for release in April this year.

Ghostly sightings among the ruined abbey, things that are not what they seem, and perhaps love for Frank Andino. We shall have to wait and see.

The Larkspur Mysteries

Work In Progress 2.7

I have a quick update for you today. I am now up to 75,000 words of Larkspur Four, still with the working title, ‘Chester Cadman’ and it’s going well.

Things are starting to come together in both through lines of the story, the mystery plot and the emotional one. Although there’s no dramatic chase sequence or race to save a life in this one, the story has shape and is gradually building to a climax, which will hopefully be an ‘Ah, now I get it!’ kind of denouement.

I’ve had a bit of a disrupted week since last Wednesday, which is why I have only written 15,000 words in the last seven days, but things are quieter now, so I can knuckle down.

I have also been popping away from the typing to research the various elements needed for this story, but I can’t tell you all of them, otherwise I would give away some surprises. All I will say is, where last week’s research included the ingredients and the invention of stink bombs, this week it was the invention of the bubble bath (as we know it). And with that, I must return to Bodmin Moor and some strange goings-on.

Things That go Bump in the Research

Hello everyone, and welcome to my regular Saturday update. Today, I want to talk about phantasmagoria, Pepper’s ghost, and various things supernatural. Why? Because the fourth book in the Larkspur Mystery series is built around a ghost story, and when I’ve not been writing it, I have been researching all things ghostly.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, it’s an undeniable fact that belief in ghosts exists in just about all cultures. The ghost story as we know it can be traced back to Sir Walter Scott and his 1824 novel, ‘Wandering Willie’s Tale’, which is not as naughty as it might sound to those, like me, inclined to innuendo. We’re talking ghost rather than horror; you can mark the beginning of the horror genre with ‘The Castle of Otranto’ (1765) by Horace Walpole, but that’s a debate for another day.

Following Willie’s wanderings, we can cite Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ as a classic ghost story, and since the beginnings of the Victorian ghost novel, other writers have leapt on the spectral bandwagon including M.R. James, Violet Hunt, Henry James and the Irish writer, Sheridan Le Fanu.

The Larkspur Ghost: A Curious Development

Ages ago, before even the Clearwater Mysteries was born, I tried my hand at writing a contemporary paranormal MM romance novel, ‘Curious Moonlight.’ This received mixed reviews, and understandably so, because people who read the micro-niche of contemporary paranormal MM romance have specific rules, and I, the upstart, didn’t keep to them.

My novel was more about two men, one gay, one curious, trying to fall in love and being thwarted by, among other things, a hangover spirit from an old Cornish myth. What ‘Moonlight’ did do, though, was make me think of a sequel. In it, my two main characters were invited to a rambling country house to investigate the appearance of a ghost. The house was called Blackwood Abbey, the ghost was said to be that of a serving girl murdered for her romance with a monk in 1500-and-something, and the dead girl was still haunting the manor, which couldn’t be sold until the mystery was solved. And so it rambled on until I ran out of ectoplasm, and shelved the idea.

I am glad I did, because what I was trying to write was beyond me. It did, however, lead to bigger and better things. The idea of a mystery led to The Clearwater Mysteries, Blackwood Abbey led to the creation of Larkspur Hall (and Jasper Blackwood, I guess), and the two-word title led to others, such as Deviant Desire, Twisted Tracks and Unspeakable Acts. Between ‘Moonlight’ and Larkspur Four, I have written about fifteen better novels, and I now know what I am doing.

Except I don’t. Or I didn’t when I sat down to tackle the subject of all things ghostly in Victorian times, and in particular, the story of the Larkspur Ghost.

Chester Cadman

Larkspur Four is currently titled ‘Chester Cadman’ because that’s the name of the lead character, and a better title has not yet fallen into place. Don’t worry. I am not going to give away any spoilers.

The story was inspired by an advertisement in a London paper of 1981 which advertised Mr Maskelyen’s premier magical entertainment at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. The entertainment promised apparitions, bodies floating over the audience, and other ghostly occurrences every day promptly at three and every evening at eight (excepting Mondays). Such entertainments were popular in Victorian society, and the Egyptian Hall quickly became ‘England’s Home of Mystery.’ An advertising poster of the time promises, ‘Labial, Fanfare, Zoe & Psycho’ as part of Maskelyne & Cooke’s entertainment, but I am not sure I want to look into those attraction at this moment.

In my story, Chester (not his real name) fell from grace after paying a visit to Mr Maskelyen’s Entertainment, and afterwards, accepting an invitation to participate in a séance. Chester doesn’t believe in ghosts, you see, and is a debunker of ghost stories, except he can’t be, because the word ‘debunk’ didn’t exist until the next century, but you get the picture.

When the story starts, he is on his way to Larkspur Hall, where Archer (Lord Clearwater) and his steward/best friend, Tom, are waiting for him. Tom is reading a novel by the above mentioned Le Fanu in preparation for a discussion about ghosts.

Chester is invited to join the Larkspur Academy, which he does, and his first task is to ‘debunk’ the mystery of the Larkspur Ghost. Along the way, he encounters various personal problems, love, lust and lingering doubt, and learns much about the darker history of Larkspur Hall and the Clearwater viscounts. I can’t tell you any more than that because I’ve not written it yet, but I am up to 70,000 words. (You can follow its progress on my Work In Progress blogs on Wednesdays.)

Phantasmagoria and Pepper

One of the things I am researching for the background of this novel, to add authenticity and detail, is phantasmagoria. I can’t define it any better than this description I found in a paper by Japanese academic Yurie NAKANE:

Phantasmagoria is an early projection show using an optical instrument called a magic lantern. Brought to Britain from France in 1801, it amused spectators by summoning the spirits of absent people, including both the dead and the living. [Link to the full article free download.]

It didn’t, of course. I mean, it did, but not really. What this theatrical device did was project an image of a person, or an object, a skeleton from the closet or something else better left forgotten, onto a screen, onto mist or a sheet of glass. The effect was to make the ghostly image appear among real people and furniture, thereby giving the appearance of an apparition before our very eyes.

Phantasmagoria began way before Chester Cadman was born at sea. Yurie Nakane tells us, Phantasmagoria in Paris was conducted by Philidor in 1792 for the first time. And later in her paper, In October, 1801, Paul Philidor brought phantasmagoria to Britain and started to give performances there.

The stage trick of phantasmagoria, went through a few developments, one of which was ‘Dircksian phantasmagoria’ in the mid-19th century, but Henry Dircks’ confabulations required a special auditorium be built, and could only be seen by a few spectators in a purpose-built gallery during daylight. (You’d never get funding these days.) However, he worked with a chap called John Henry Pepper, and that led to the creation of a stage trick called Pepper’s Ghost.

This illusion requires two rooms; the stage on which is a visible but camouflaged sheet of glass, and a ‘blue’ room out of sight. The figure in the blue room is simply reflected in the glass, and hey presto! We have a moving, talking apparition. That technique is still used in magic acts, theatre, theme parks and film studios today.

I suppose the moral is, don’t take your Pepper with a pinch of salt.

You can find more on Phantasmagoria in an excellent article by Sandra Gulland on her website, including images. [Link is here.]

Back to the story

In my novel, phantasmagoria and Pepper’s Ghost get only a passing mention, yet I still took the time to check them out, because they are things Chester Cadman would have known about. He also has things to say about hypnotism, or mesmerism, spiritualism and seances, none of which have much impact on the story. Discovering such detail to give your character a little more depth is called research, and has taken up most of my week.

As has writing, and it was while writing the other morning that I had something of a supernatural experience. Before I tell you what it was, you should know that it was daylight, I was at the computer I am at now, totally sober and writing a description of my character, Fleet, comedically blundering about with his eyes closed because he wanted to know what it was like to be blind. I wasn’t writing anything creepy at all. Neil was in the kitchen preparing lunch, I was alone, and my office door was closed (it opens to the outside and it was six degrees, sunny, but cold).

I jolted in shock, my heartbeat shot up, skin went cold and I clutched my pearls, exclaiming, ‘Oh, must you!’ as you do when you’re thinking of something else, and open a door to find your husband unexpectedly on the other side. Except, the dark shape that had crept into the corner of my left eye, covering the height of the bookcase, and moving towards the window, was no longer there. I was left with that aftershock of shock, a little weak kneed, and looking over my shoulder. I politely asked the whatever not to do that again while I was in the room, but finished writing to go and have lunch, knowing the whatever hadn’t meant to take me by surprise.

Strange, but true, and also useful. I now know what it’s like to unexpectedly see a ghostly form, or to think you did, and the experience will inform my writing. Accidental research. Can’t beat it.

Before I go…

Before I go, I want to tell you that I will be doing an ‘author takeover’ on a Facebook group tomorrow from 6 pm Greek time (4 pm GMT). I will be at the MM Fiction Addiction Café chatting about ME and giving away an e-copy of ‘Guardians of the Poor’ (or another of my novels if you already have that one). I will be talking more about the Larkspur Mysteries, and answering questions, so sign up (free, of course) and pop into the cafe if you want to know more.

I’ll be here on Wednesday with my Work In Progress blog to update you more about Chester Cadman, Larkspur Mysteries book four.

Jackson

Work In Progress 2.5

Dusk in the woods

Here’s an update on Larkspur Four (still untitled). I am now up to just over 42,000 words and approaching the halfway mark. It’s clear this isn’t going to be a nail-biter like ‘Agents’ or some of the other Clearwater books. It’s more of a slowly evolving mystery of things and people that go bump in the night. ‘Things’, because our new character is investigating the sighting of a ghost from the past which is threatening Larkspur Hall, and ‘people’, because he has met someone at Academy House who has started to stir his heartstrings. Therefore, book four will be a gradually unfolding mystery with plenty of history (real and imagined), a budding love story, and a twist that I hope no-one sees coming.

If ‘book four’ has a background theme, it is one of perceptions. Among it all, I have expanded an idea I used in ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’ People have commented on my use of an owl in that book; there’s a scene where an owl flies over the estate at night and we get to see into the Hall and what’s going on without being inside or in a character’s point of view. I have used the same device twice so far in book four, but not just with the owl.

Fox and Owl (credit to Anand Varma)

I’ll leave you with a short extract from draft one — and remember, this is only a rough draft. (A fox is looking down on the ruined abbey at night.)

Head down, ears up, whiskers out, it stalked and scrutinised, climbing higher to the edge of its realm, until it reached the last of the day and sat in the sanctity of night, listening to the empty moor behind, surveying all below and fearing none above. Not even the up-lit white of the circling owl, its competitor and nightly companion, vigilant, silent and deadly.

Beneath, its equal, the fox crouched low and watched a spectral shape of lighter against darker appear from lower down. It spread around a figure hastening towards its hunting ground, the marred masonry of man, and the fox’s hackles rose in defiance of the intrusion. Forehead furrowed, a growl in its throat, it readied its voice, but no sound came.

As deftly as it had darted, the light died among the shifts and shapes of flint and granite, until the last speck of trespass had melted into the earth, and there was nothing left of the night but the owl high above, and the fox contemplating the business of its nightly hunt.

On Friday you can catch another preview on fellow author, Ofelia Grand’s website. I will be her guest blogger, hope to see you there!

For now it’s time for another cup of tea and back to my boys, have a good day, Jack

Work In Progress 2.4

The Larkspur Mysteries book four

So, where am I?… Oh yes, the still untitled Larkspur book four. It’s still called ‘Chester Cadman’ as a working title, because that’s the name of the new main character. All I can tell you about him is that he comes with a few surprises. I could tell you a lot more, as I am getting to know him quite well, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you. I am currently at chapter 10 and 37,776 words of a rough, first draft.

I’ve had to double-check the layout of Larkspur Hall and the grounds, look up the history of Larkspur Abbey, and invent a few stories from the past. This has involved delving beyond my newspaper archive right back to 1541 and the dissolution of the monasteries (1536 to 1541).

The present day is January 1891, as the country suffers a very cold winter, and the location for book four is Cornwall. So far, it looks like it’s all going to take place on the Larkspur Estate and at Academy House as well as inside the main Hall, out in the grounds and further afield to one of the farms on Bodmin Moor. There is an old mystery to solve, so in a way, this book is going to be like a cold case solved by a new character. For a change, Tom Payne has more of the protagonist role than Lord Clearwater, Frank Andino plays a major part, and I am setting up other characters, threads and mysteries for the future.

Here’s a brief extract from a book found in the Larkspur library:

An Account of Strange Events Witnessed and Reported at Larkspur Hall

Compiled from Documents, Diaries and Other Sources

by Hedrek Nancarrow, Librarian, 1878

There are many tales of the nocturnal visitant to the Larkspur Estate, some handed down through generations by word of mouth, others documented by Hall staff and the family, and some from testimony given, in later years, to the police. Earlier, there are others given to the village bailiff, the incumbent vicar or rector, and previous notable men of Larkspur village. Below, I present a selection of such reports in the order of their date, and from this, several things will be noted…  

Thus, I conclude the origins of the story. Suffice to say, in 1540, a tryst between the monk, Madroc, and an unnamed serving girl gave rise to the dismissal of both, and that, in turn led to the formation of a ghost believed to be the spirit of the murdered girl, which was, in fact, an invention to keep out the unwanted. During the civil war and estate troubles of the mid-1600s, the tale passed into lore, and did not rear its spectral head again until much later.

Work in Progress 2.3

Chester Cadman: A New Character at Larkspur

In this week’s update, I can tell you that Larkspur Four is currently at 28,000 words of its first draft, or chapter eight of a novel which is building in a file I’ve called ‘Chester Cadman.’ That’s not the title of the book, it’s the name of the main character. He’s a newbie to the Clearwater world and the Larkspur Academy, and comes with an interesting history that’s already led me to plenty of research.

That research has, so far, included mesmerism, seances and other related mysteries, The Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, and mapmaking and cartography in 1890s. Also on my list for background reading is the political situation in Egypt at that time.

All I can tell you about Larkspur Four right now is that it revolves around sightings of a medieval serving girl wandering through the grounds and ruined church. An apparition from the past which has been reported over the centuries, and a mystery that needs investigating.

While that’s going on, we’re introduced to a few new characters, while the main Clearwater men are elsewhere, apart from Thomas Payne who has been left to run the hall. Some of the newer Larkspur characters are still about, with Fleet, Frank and Clem at Academy House (along with Dalston and Joe for the time being), while at the Hall, Nancarrow and the newer footmen and others play supporting roles.

But Chester Cadman is my main man on this one, and being handsome, enigmatic and in need of friendship, attracts Frank’s attention – of course. Frank is going to be there right by his side, loyal, desperate to be loving and, maybe, destined to be disappointed. We shall have to wait and see.

I will be back on Saturday with a regular blogpost. In the meantime, on Thursday I will be the guest at fellow MM author, Elle Keaton’s facebook group. Join us at Highway to Elle for chatter and a giveaway, hope to see you there!

Agents of The Truth and ‘How I upload to Amazon’

The exciting news today is that the third Larkspur mystery, ‘Agents of the Truth’ is now available on Amazon. As I write, the Kindle version can be found here, and in Kindle Unlimited, and the paperback should be live any moment now.

Uploading to Amazon

I am often asked about the process, not just of how I write my novels, but how I publish them. So, today, I thought I would let you in on my system. As usual, this is how I do it, and other authors have their own ways of going about things. My version isn’t necessarily right for you, but it works for me. Here it is in stages.

One. Write the Book.

That’s the part that takes the time. ‘Agents’ took me just over three months from start to finish, but I am able to write full time; sometimes for other people, mostly, though, for myself. There are other blog posts such as this one which you can find with a search which tell you about my writing process, but in a nutshell it’s: draft one, draft two for consistency and repetition, style and ‘saying it better’, draft three for grammatical accuracy, draft four for finality. My husband reads draft one for consistency, knowing I will improve the writing, and I take on board what he says. Meanwhile, I contact Andjela, my cover designer, and she works up a cover for the Kindle version. After draft four, I send the manuscript to be proofread, and while that is going on, I begin work on the Amazon process. While that’s happening, I advise Andjela of the final page count so she can make the full cover. I don’t have the finished PDF print file by then, but I can make an educated guess of the final page count from the word length of the final MS and comparing it with previously published books.

With the MS back from proofing, I then have another read to agree the proofs, and make any minor changes that might have been niggling me between times. I have usually started on the next book by then but put that aside while I deal with the Amazon things.

Preparing to Upload to Amazon

The first thing I do, after logging into my KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) dashboard, is ‘create a new eBook.’ All I can do at this stage is enter the title, the series information, the author’s name and the blurb (which I can change when it comes back from proofing if necessary). I also put in keywords and select the two categories, in the case of Clearwater and Larkspur, that’s Gay and Historical.
On the next page, I can’t do anything about uploading the internal file or the cover as I don’t have them by then, though sometimes, I can upload the Kindle cover. With Kindle, I then press ‘save as draft’and turn to the print version. The info I’ve added is already there, but not the cover. However, I opt for an Amazon ISBN because I only sell my novels through Amazon and KU, and I need that ISBN for the front matter.

Front and Backmatter

The frontmatter of a book is made up of the first few pages. The publishing disclaimer and copyright claim etc., and in there, I need to put the ISBN number I’ve just had created. I also list those who have contributed to the book; the proof-reader, cover designer, illustrator and layout company. More about that in a moment. I basically take the front matter from the previous book, make sure I change the title, date and ISBN, and add to the list of ‘also by Jackson Marsh.’

The backmatter consists of author’s notes and a list of my titles with a little more info, and, for the Kindle version, direct links to where the books can be found.

Front and backmatter are two sperate Word doc files.

Formatting a Book for Amazon

I used to do the internal layout myself, using Adobe InDesign. Not being a graphic designer, this was something of a learning curve, and not a process I enjoyed. Since Clearwater nine, ‘Negative Exposure’, however, I have used Mongoose Author Servies at Other Worlds Ink.

This process costs me an extra $60.00, but it’s more that worth it. I contact the guys in advance and warn them I have a layout job coming up, and when I am happy with the proofs of all printed matter, gather them into one ‘final files’ folder. Other Worlds Ink have a list of requirements, and I go through them for each book, to make sure I communicate to them what I want them to know and how I want the internals to look. They now have a template for me, so it’s an easy task both ways. Within a couple of days, I have the PDF of the print version sent back to me, and I can go through it to pick up anything that we want to change. I.e., if there’s a stray line at the top of an otherwise blank page. Mind you, they use Velum to create the internals, and that programme automatically sorts out most oddities.

Once I’m happy with the print version, I agree it, and they send me seven other files including the Kindle, ePub and Kobo – not that I use any of the others, but sometimes, I’ll give a book away for free and some readers prefer those other formats.

And Back to the Amazon Upload

So, now I have all files, including the full, wrap-around cover from Andjela, so the task ahead is easy. I simply upload the interna Kindle file via KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), and when that’s done, I set the price. Then comes the nerve-wracking bit where you have to press ‘I am ready to publish my book,’ but because OWI have done the layout, I know I’ve got nothing to worry about.

You may, once you’ve uploaded your internal file, get a message saying Amazon have found spelling mistakes, and you’re able to check these and the layout before you publish. My ‘spelling errors’ are usually unusual names or slang/dialect I have used along the way, but I still check them and ensure the book looks good in the Kindle, phone and table viewer.

Then, with the Kindle under review, I turn to the print version and do the same thing: upload the full cover and the internal file, both in PDF format. Again, you can check the layout and look before you proceed to pricing and publishing.

That’s it, really. Amazon say it can take 72 hours before the book goes live, but the ‘Agents’ Kindle version went live within two hours of me hitting ‘publish.’ The print version usually takes longer, but for me, no more than two days. Then, you can see all the links to the various Amazon stores where it’s available, and simply copy them to wherever you want them.

And After Amazon?

My next task, which I must see to today, is to list my latest book with my usual services. I use Queer Romance Ink as a listings place, because they do all kinds of wonderful things like interviews, giveaways, newsletters and features.

All Author is another where I have a dedicated Jackson Marsh page and listings.

I also have to update my Amazon Author Page and make sure the new book is listed there. I do this once both versions are available to make sure they both get listed.

I don’t know how it works with Goodreads, but somehow, my books find their way to an author page there too. I tend not to use Goodreads much.

Then? Well, then I hand things over to my PA Jenine and she organises me to put up posts of Facebook and in various groups to get the publicity machine rolling.

It’s not as hard as your think to publish on Amazon. I’ve been doing it for several years now it gets easier each time. I still have a checklist though, and read the terms, conditions and instructions in case they have changed. Go slowly, but if you do get into trouble, their author services help department are responsive and quick, very helpful and there to assist.

And now… Now I must return to chapter seven of Larkspur Four. Check Wednesday’s Work In Progress blog for my next update.