Some Reference Gems

This week, I have been researching all manner of facts for ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, while writing a few draft chapters. We’ve also had a major storm and a mild earthquake, neither of which are uncommon in Greece at this time of year. However, nothing stops Jackson Marsh when he is in full flow, and apart from the occasional internet outage, nothing stops the research. Actually, when the internet is out, I turn to my books and read, if necessary, by torchlight.

The Larkspur Legacy’ is turning into something of an epic; an end of season double episode, if you like, as it will bring the Clearwater and Larkspur mysteries together and to an end. It’s also a book with diverse points of view, because the main characters get flung far and wide as  they struggle to solve the clues and treasure hunt begun in ‘Starting with Secrets.’ So, for that reason, my research has been wide-ranging, and while researching, I came across a few sites that might be of interest to other writers and readers.

Here are some of the subjects I found online while delving into the past this past week. Where I found a decent site, I’ve added the link in case you are interested.

The history of sound recording. (Wiki; always double-check what you read.)

Ships’ bells explained. Did you know eight bells happens six times per day? Once during each of the eight watches, save the first dog watch.

Sea routes and port distances. Ever wondered how long it would take to sail from Alexandria in Egypt to Falmouth in Cornwall? Assuming good weather and a constant speed of 10 knots, this online calculator puts it at 13.7 days.

Here’s a handy list of sailing terms. Not the ‘shiver me timbers’ kind, either.

A short history of the Cutty Sark. For anyone interested in clipper ships.

Irish proverbs. For Silas Hawkins and his mother, of course.

Strong words Vs weak words (for writers) very handy when you come to write the blurb.

A (free) dictionary of Cornish dialect. Me’ansome, me-lover, me-duck, and other colloquialisms to give your character’s authenticity.

Cook’s tourists’ handbook for Egypt, the Nile, and the Desert. [Electronic Edition] Just what I was looking for as it gives routes, timetables, details of sites to visit and much more.

View of the Temple at Luxor, 1880s. Antonio Beato (English, born Italy, about 1835, 1906). Albumen silver print.

500 alternative words for ‘said’ – very handy, but don’t overdo them in your dialogue tags.

Those are but a few of the places I have been this week online. I’ve also looked up the causes of death during pregnancy (1890), names of various piece of Egyptian costume, the distance between Mounts Bay and Bodmin, and Greece and Calais, steamships operating across the English Channel in 1891, how to distil oil from garlic and fish, extinct titles of the nobility, and how to sail a barquentine.

Because ‘Legacy’ sees the culmination of both series, I’ve also had to do a lot of back-checking, because the Clearwater cast are in the book along with the Larkspur Academy Men. In particular, one character’s story begun in 1884, comes to a conclusion in 1891. That character has been in every book through the series, if not on stage then off stage and mentioned, and I thought it high time we rounded him off – as it were.

You will see what I mean in due course.

Catch up with my Work In Progress blog next Wednesday and I’ll let you know how close I am to finishing the first draft.

Speaking in Silence

The Larkspur Mysteries Book Five

I have the cover and the details uploaded, and should be finalising the internal files over the weekend. This means you should be able to find ‘Speaking in Silence’ any day now. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll no doubt receive a notification from Amazon and know the book is available before I do. Meanwhile, at the bottom of this post is the cover reveal. Click the image to open the full cover.

Who is it?

The problem with discussing any new release is that I don’t want to give away any spoilers or tell you what the story is because I don’t want to ruin the journey for you. However, you will meet the character while you’re reading the book, and all I will tell you is that he is our protagonist. Everything that happens does so because of him. Things also happen because of the antagonist who is after his own reward, but he’s slimy and horrible, so I didn’t want to put him on the front cover.

Speaking in Silence is a slightly unusual story for me in that it’s not exactly a mystery. It is, but the mystery is ‘How will they do that?’ and, later, ‘How did they do that?’ It’s one of only a few novels I have written with a classic drawing room denouement, as I discussed in a post the other week.

The fun thing for me was holding back what I and the characters knew, and not giving things away to you, the reader, too soon. I could have done that, and then there would have been one tension point at a particular place in the story, but that would have been it. This time, I decided to keep you wondering until after the event—the climax—and I hope it works.

‘Starting with Secrets’

With ‘Speaking in Silence’ written, I was able to turn my mind to the next book, ‘Starting with Secrets,’ and the one after that, ‘The Larkspur Legacy.’ What I am embarking on now is a two-part mystery that leads to what could be the end of the series. Having said that, I am sure the Clearwater world will live on after the Larkspur collection. I just haven’t decided how. Yet.

From Wednesday, on my work-in-progress blog, I will set the counter back to week one, though I have been working on ‘Secrets’ for the past several days already. I have been devising clues because the next novel is all about solving obscure clues while chasing down a secret ‘treasure’ that will secure the Clearwater future. (Again, I can’t say too much.) There will be a new character or two, and many of the established Clearwater and Larkspur characters will be involved.

Here’s an opportunity that’s just occurred to me—I’ll discuss it with Jenine when I can, but I’ll drop it in here now, so I don’t forget.

I was thinking I might ask readers and followers on my Facebook page to tell me who is their favourite character from either series. I can then make sure those characters appear in the next two books. There is such a cast now, that my spreadsheet of characters is bulging, and I am running out of names. (I realised the other day that I had an Archer and an Arthur, and when they appear in the same scene, I have to call Arthur a footman or Art, so readers don’t get confused between the two.) Keep an eye on my FB page and I’ll put up a post (if I remember) asking for suggestions.

Which characters would you like to appear in the next two instalments? Who’s your favourite? Perhaps then I’ll draw a random name and send off a signed copy of ‘Starting with Secrets’ when it’s out.

Speaking in Silence Cover Reveal

But I mustn’t get ahead of myself and forget that Speaking in Silence is out next week. Tune in to Wednesday’s WIP to start the adventure of writing the next novel, and before that, look out for the ‘Silence’ release.

Now you can click the image to see the full front cover open in a new window.

Work In Progress 3.11

Speaking in Silence

You may remember my to-do list last week looked like this:

  •     Finish the fine editing
  •     Reread for a final check
  •     Create the blurb
  •     Find images suitable to make a cover and open negotiations with Andjela
  •     Proofreading
  •     Layout
  •     Check everything and reread
  •     Upload to Amazon
  •     Hope for the best

I’m happy to tell you, I have completed the first four things on the list ✔✔✔✔, though I haven’t finalised the blurb yet. Neil has read my edited draft, and I have a little editing to do on the last chapter, which I will do in a moment. Andjela and I have the licence for a photo to be adapted for the front cover, and there will be a reveal of that nearer the release date, which is still estimated at the first week of August.

Check in next week for an update. Meanwhile, here’s the draft blurb.

Speaking in Silence

The Larkspur Mysteries Book Five

Jackson Marsh

“The quiet ones have the loudest voice. Them as say most by speaking in silence.”

Fiona Hawkins, 1881

March 1891. A parliamentary committee arrives at Larkspur Hall to assess Lord Clearwater’s suitability to become the Earl of Cornwall. Prince Albert Victor will announce their decision at a society dinner on Archer’s thirty-second birthday.

However, the MP with the authority to advance Archer to the title is the same man who caused Edward Hyde never to speak again. When the parliamentarians arrive to inspect the Larkspur Academy, Edward comes face to face with the man he had arrested for making unnatural advances. A man who was never tried for his crime.

Silas Hawkins and the academy men band together to ensure Edward sees justice done while protecting Lord Clearwater’s reputation and each other. Using their skills in chemistry, physics and deception, they embark on a game of secrets and subterfuge where the unspoken causes the loudest outcry.


Speaking in Silence is the fifth book in the Larkspur Mysteries series, and touches on themes of victimisation and suicide. Like all books in the series, it is inspired by actual events from the late 1800s. With themes of friendship, bromance, male love and revenge, the story is more of a ‘how dunnit?’ than a ‘who dunnit?’ and like all of Jackson’s mysteries, contains humour, while mixing fact with fiction.

Disability Pride Month: Joe Tanner

Disability Pride Month occurs in July “to listen to what the voices of disabled people have to say about their rights and what they need“.

The month was chosen to recognise that, the then President of the United States, George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law on July 26, 1990. (Wiki)

As this month is Disability Pride Month, I thought I’d write a short piece about my “disabled” character, Joe Tanner. I put the disabled in “ ” because Joe wouldn’t have seen himself as disabled. He’s deaf and has been since birth, and yes, that’s a disability, but all the same, he wouldn’t (or doesn’t) consider himself disabled.

These days, it’s difficult to write about how Joe was treated because the language of that time is now considered offensive, but we shouldn’t take offence at history, because there’s nothing we can do to change it; it is how it was. Being deaf in the late 19th century wasn’t easy, and although there had been schools for the deaf since the 18th century, they were small, private and expensive. Also, sign language was outlawed in 1880 and was discouraged as taught communication for 100 years. When Joe Tanner was born in 1871, his parents didn’t know what to make of him. Although his father was a vicar, he had a very short fuse, and Joe’s early life wasn’t pleasant. Frustrated that their son couldn’t communicate, Joe’s parents left him at the Hackney Workhouse and buggered off to America. Joe was about seven at this time, and was immediately put on the ‘idiots ward.’

This is where you mustn’t take offence to the language.

According to the glossary on Peter Higginbotham’s marvellous site www.workhouses.org:

Idiots and Imbeciles were two commonly used categories of mental subnormality.

Definitions varied over the years, but in broad terms:

Idiots, the most deficient, were unable to protect themselves against basic physical dangers.

Imbeciles, a less severely deficient group, were unable to protect themselves against moral and mental dangers.

It’s also likely that many deaf people entering a workhouse would have ended up in the hospital wards or sent to an asylum. In Joe’s case, he should have been sent to a school, which probably would have done him no good anyway, but he was lucky. Not only did he have an understanding workhouse matron, but he also met Dalston Blaze.

Here are some extracts from the chapter in ‘Guardians of the Poor’ where Dalston meets Joe for the first time. Joe was seven, Dalston six, and Mrs Lee was the workhouse matron.

The matron demanded to know what was happening, and a grubber said the boy had refused to stay on the idiots’ ward, and they were trying to get him back there. Dalston knew of the idiots’ ward, and of the one on the floor above, which was for the imbeciles, but he wasn’t allowed up there. Even if he was, he wouldn’t have gone, the noises and screaming were too frightening.

As the matron tore the grubbers down a peg, Dalston crept closer and stood facing the boy. Without knowing why, he knew that what was happening was wrong. If a boy misbehaved, he missed a meal, everyone knew that, and perhaps, he thought, this lad has been naughty. It wasn’t uncommon for the schoolteacher to whack a boy’s arse for misbehaving, but if this lad had just suffered that, he wouldn’t have been able to sit.

Mrs Lee tried to talk to him, but he balled himself tighter, and in the end, she told the grubbers to go about their business, and leave the lad alone.

Dalston, intrigued by the boy, stays with him when the staff give up, and the two start to communicate. Their language begins with drawings and moves on to finger and hand signs. In the story, Dalston (who is hearing) and Joe do what many deaf people did; they invented their own language. Although British Sign Language (BSL), as we now call it, was abandoned in schools in 1880, many deaf people continued to use it in their own groups, homes and meeting places. That’s why there are now so many regional variations in BSL.

Dalston and Joe go on to appear in all of the Larkspur Mysteries either as main characters or supporting cast, so I have been able to explore Joe’s character more as the series goes on. I thought it was important that Joe didn’t end up as a ‘feel sorry for’ character; I didn’t want him to be the one being looked after or treated in any way differently to the other characters. He’s a gay, young man in Victorian times like all the others around him, except he can’t hear. He can communicate, but not everyone can return the communication, not with sign language at any rate. However, other characters are learning some of it, they can always write things down, and none of them treats Joe as inferior. He is, after all, an excellent and natural horseman, he drives the carriages, and he studies archaeology while solving old murder cases.

With Joe, I wanted to show a disabled character in the same way as I show my others. Therefore, he’s not always fun and happiness, he has flaws, he gets frustrated, and he has a temper. He and Dalston’s first year together out of the workhouse (aged 19 and 18 by then) was not always an easy one, and like any young couple, they had relationship problems – none of which were due to Joe’s deafness. Joe’s also got a naughty sense of humour, and uses his sign language to his advantage, talking about people without them knowing what he is saying.

Book five of the Larkspur series, ‘Speaking in Silence’ also concerns a young man with a disability, though it’s not a physical one. Because of something that happened in his past, Edward Hyde has chosen not to speak more than one or two words to anyone (apart from his one friend). It’s his way of withdrawing from the world because of an incident that left him contemplating suicide. So, his disability is, you might say, an emotional one, but it is one he can be ‘cured’ of. That’s what the book is about, getting Edward’s voice back – although emotional recovery from his trauma will continue long after the story has finished.

For both these characters, Joe Tanner and Edward Hyde, I wanted to present my differently-abled characters as positive, non-victims (although Edward was) and to make them as good/bad, nice/nasty, grateful/churlish as all the others. Hopefully, they both present positive images of deaf or emotionally scarred people, and we see them do heroic things that we all wish we had the courage to do.

However readers take them, what they do in the books makes me proud, and that’s my way of wrapping up this post about my ‘disabled’ characters for Disability Pride Month.

Speaking in Silence is due out at the beginning of August

The Larkspur Series begins with Guardians of the Poor’ and it’s Joe you see on the cover signing the word ‘deaf.’

Work In Progress 3.10

Speaking in Silence

We’re into week ten of the writing of this new Larkspur Mystery and I am pleased to tell you, I have only eight chapters left to edit before I can say I have a draft for my beta readers, Neil and Jenine. The MS is booked in for proofreading on the 20th of July, and I am still aiming for the end of July/start of August to have the finished novel ready for you.

My to-do list now looks like this:

  • Finish the fine editing
  • Reread for a final check
  • Create the blurb
  • Find images suitable to make a cover and open negotiations with Andjela
  • Proofreading
  • Layout
  • Check everything and reread
  • Upload to Amazon
  • Hope for the best

While all that is going on, you won’t be surprised to learn that I have started thinking about the next book. The next two books, actually, because I am planning a two-book finale to this series along the lines of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’ I am teeming with ideas, and have already outlined various scenes in my head, but I must find a way to connect them. All I can tell you right now is that I am planning to incorporate many of the characters from both Clearwater and Larkspur, have three or four storylines running at once all leading to the same end, so all will be connected, take my characters to some wild and exciting places, and tie up many threads. Some of these threads were started in Deviant Desire, and before that, Banyak & Fecks, so I have lots of rereading and remembering to do (thankfully, I keep my ‘bible’ and notebooks). There is also a special ending to consider, and all being well, you’ll be able to read the second book of the two at or by Christmas.

Watch this space.

Thank goodness for my author notebooks and ‘bible’!

Work In Progress 3.09

Speaking in Silence

It’s done! The first draft, that is, and we have arrived at Bodmin station at 95,000 words. Now, after a brief stop, we must make the return journey to London as we embark on the rewrites and editing.

A view of Bodmin Road Station, Cornwall in c.1895

This novel turned out to be slightly different to the others, and that made the journey an interesting one. Speaking in Silence is a mystery. It takes place in Cornwall and London, it brings in two characters who have, until now, been in the background, and it is based on a newspaper report from 1891. There, the similarities with the other Larkspur Mysteries end. Don’t worry, it still contains your favourite elements, but in a different way.

The content is darker than I’ve previously dabbled with because the protagonist is a victim. He’s also the one who hardly speaks, which presented another challenge when writing. Also, the mystery isn’t written as: This is strange, how are we going to solve this? It is written so the reader asks, ‘What are they doing?’ We know ‘they’ are up to something, and we know what they want to achieve, but, hopefully, you won’t work out what it is they are doing and how they achieve it until the end. Then, in the denouement, you’re told exactly how it happened.

I expect that makes little sense, but it will all become clear in the end, and the end of the journey, I hope, will be sometimes in July. Meanwhile, here’s an unedited taster from draft one.

Outside, foxes and owls scoured the grounds for their prey, while inside, a dim light burned in the drawing room until well past two in the morning. Figures paced before the window, apparently speaking in silence as no sound escaped the casements, and they disturbed nothing and no-one. At two fifteen, a light in an upstairs bedroom came on, and three silhouettes sat at a desk with paper and pen. Another discussion began, and one wrote while the others offered ideas. A little later, one sat in a chair while another busied himself around his head with scissors and a razor, until all three were satisfied with the results of their labours.

If that wasn’t strange enough, at the back of the house, another two men came from the kitchen and crossed the yard. At two twenty-five, they lit lamps in an ancient building that had once been a barn and set to work. There was no speaking, but there were sounds; the hissing and bubbling of liquids in jars, the clank of crucibles on iron stands, and the opening and closing of heavy books. All this took place beside a light which grew increasingly discoloured, once being orange, and then red, to glow purple just before the stable clock chimed half-past three.

Speaking In Silence
JACKSON MARSH
I love this watercolour of Victoria College’s first chemistry lab, I can imagine our young men working in here

Making Your Book Titles Count

I’ve often been asked how I come up with the titles for my novels, so today, I thought I’d look at a few and explain how they came about.

Just the other day on Self-Publishing School, Chandler Bolt wrote a piece titled ‘Book title ideas: Choosing your own & generators to use.’ In his article, he says titles are short hooks that advertise your book by using the fewest possible words, and suggests that potential readers take less than five seconds to decide whether or not to buy the book. Some things to bear in mind, he says, are to

  • make the title memorable,
  • make sure its genre-appropriate and
  • make it intriguing.

I agree with everything he says in his article (it’s well worth reading), and it caused me to reminisce about how I came up with some of my titles.

What Comes First, the Title or the Story?

Good question. I just experimented with a book title generator and, to be frank, wasn’t impressed. It was a basic thing where you selected an adjective and a noun, and it bunged the in front of random words. It generated things like ‘The Enchanted Pencil’, ‘The Imaginary Vase’ and ‘The Crazy Coffin‘. Okay, fun if you’re looking for inspiration and you don’t mind every book title starting with The, but it wasn’t really my style. I could have done better by opening a dictionary at random and picking the first two words I came across.

Actually, let’s try that…

The Queer Informant

The Predynastic Deuterium


The Putty Cushion

Now we’re just being silly. Let’s get back on track. Where in the world did ‘Deviant Desire’ come from?

Deviant Desire

Deviant Desire started out as Something Lamplight, or it might have been Something Gaslight, because I wanted a title that reflected the background of the story, Whitechapel in 1888, during the time of the Ripper murders. As I was writing the book, I thought more about the title, and suddenly ‘Deviant Desire’ popped into my head. I hadn’t read that article I just mentioned or anything like it, so this was instinctive, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.

Deviant Desire works on several levels. The main character, Silas Hawkins, is a renter and a trickster, so he’s a deviant. He’s also gay and so is the other MC, Lord Clearwater, so according to the lores of the time, they are both deviants. When they meet, they fall for each other, crash, bang, wallop style, so there’s your desire.

Meanwhile… The villain of the piece is killing young men as a way of laying a trap for our hero. He, the villain, has a deviant desire, not only to trap the hero, but a desire to kill, and if that’s not deviant, I don’t know what is.

Twisted Tracks

The title for the follow-on novel to Deviant Desire, Twisted Tracks, took a little longer to come up with, but it works in the same way. A villain is enticing the hero to a confrontation, and he does it with various twisted clues, including an anagram, a twisting of words into other words. Our hero and his friends follow the clues, the tracks left by the villain, and everything climaxes on a runaway steam train which, of course, runs on tracks. Until they run out…


Unspeakable Acts

The trend continues in book three of the Clearwater Mysteries with Unspeakable Acts. The trend of using succinct two-word titles, an adjective and a noun, but without ‘The’ in front of them. While thinking of this title, I wanted to continue using words that the Victorians used for gay men and their sexuality. So far, we’ve had deviant and twisted, and another common thing was to refer to gay sex as an unspeakable act. The story of book three concerns a performance at the Royal Opera House at which someone is due to make a speech, but if he does, he will be assassinated, therefore he can’t, or, in other words, his speech is unspeakable. The performance is of an opera, so the word ‘acts’ has a couple of other meanings (the division of a play, what the actors do on stage), and it all ties together with the background theme of the Clearwater collection, the dangers of being gay in Victorian times.

And more…

I could outline every single one of the 11 Clearwater titles, but it would become repetitive. In summary, though, they all have double meanings: Fallen Splendour (book 4) refers to a line from the major clue of the mystery, ‘The splendour falls on castle walls’, and also refers to someone’s downfall; Bitter Bloodline (book 5) refers to the taste of a Transylvanian wine, a blood feud, and Bram Stoker; Artful Deception (book 6) centres on an artwork and theatrical tricks, while hero and villain try to outwit and deceive each other; Negative Exposure (book 9) refers to being photographed naked, having the negatives of those photos printed and therefore exposed, and because of that, a man’s secret coming into the open, thus, also being exposed.

You’ll note that for books seven and eight, the titles differ. We’ve moved on from the use of deviant et al., and the titles are longer. Home From Nowhere (book 7) was a line that came to me when the characters were speaking. As often happens, I let them speak and, later, edit what they say. In this one, Fecker says to Jasper something like, ‘Like me, you have come from nowhere’, and later, Jasper says to Billy, ‘I feel like I’ve come home.’ Oh yes, I thought, Jasper (the MC) has come home from nowhere, and there we go.

One of a Pair (book 8) is another play on words. Jasper is one of a pair of young men falling in love, and Billy is the same as he’s the other half of the pair. There’s another meaning to the title which I can’t tell you in case you haven’t read the book, but if you do, you will realise the relevance.

Banyak & Fecks, The Clearwater Prequel

Banyak & Fecks was the first time the title came before the story. I’d been thinking about a novel detailing how these two friends met. Deviant Desire opens with them in the East End, and they are already very close by the time we meet them, so how did they get there? My husband said there should be a prequel telling us just that, and I wanted to write something more character driven rather than full-on mystery. I wanted it to be about Banyak & Fecks, as they call each other, so that had to be the title, and it is.

The Larkspur Series

Still trying to keep to the title-writing rules of catchy, intriguing and memorable while sticking to my own deviant desire for titles to have more than one meaning while being relevant to the plot, I moved into slightly different territory for the Larkspur series.

Guardians of the Poor, the title of book one, refers to the real guardians of the poor, those who oversaw, ran and were responsible for the workhouses. It also refers to the two main characters, and how they do something which improves the life of those in a workhouse; they become guardians of the poor in another sense.

Keepers of the Past keeps up the rhythm of the series titles, and refers to archaeologists and a cult member (perhaps), while Agents of the Truth completes the three-part telling of Dalston and Joe’s story. It also refers to archaeologists and men working for the Clearwater Detective Agency.

Seeing Through Shadows

For book four in the Larkspur series, I wanted something a little more atmospheric, and I wanted to get away from the rhythm of ‘Plural Noun of the Single Noun’ of the first three books. Seeing Through Shadows gives us a verb, a preposition and a noun, so a different rhythm, while remaining succinct and a little intriguing. Do we see through shadows? Aren’t we just seeing what they are shadowing? I mean, if there’s a shadow on the wall, are we seeing the shadow or the wall? In the story, we’re not sure what we’re seeing, so that fitted rather well.

I am currently working on Speaking in Silence, which is an oxymoron, because you can’t speak without making a sound. Yes, okay, so we have sign language and writing, but that, strictly speaking, isn’t speaking. Speaking in Silence refers to those things which are left unsaid, and in the story, there are many of them. The most difficult ‘unsaid’ part of writing this novel has been keeping information from the reader; that’s the thing I am not saying; the silence if you like. The reader will find out what’s going on in the end, but I wanted to keep them in the dark for as long as possible. I hope it works. We will have to wait and see. Also in this story, there are lots of things that the characters don’t say, but in the gaps in conversations, they and we understand their meaning… It’s complicated to explain, and you’ll have to wait a couple of months before you can read it when I hope all will be revealed.

Other Titles

I’ve written more than the Clearwater and Larkspur series. You might have heard of or read The Mentor Collection, for example. They are ‘Older man mentors younger man in love, lust and a few other things’, kind of stories. The titles aren’t tricky, though again, there is a pattern. All four are ‘The Mentor of…’ somewhere, and that somewhere takes the classic form of adjective and noun. Here, the adjective suggests loneliness or isolation (reflecting the younger, lost-his-way character) and the noun is something stable, a home (representing the older character).

The Mentor Series

Thus, we have: The Mentor of…

Wild Hill Farm

Barren Moor Ridge

Lone Marsh House

Lost Wood Hall

As Wildhill Farm, Barrenmoor Ridge etc., as they are also place names.

To Finish

As usual, I am rambling on now, and I am sure you got the point some time ago. So, to finish, I thought I’d return to that random title generator and come up with some more Mentor titles. This isn’t just for fun, I also want to highlight what I believe: that the author should come up with the title, and not use one of these random word-pickers, although they might spark ideas for stories. Perhaps. How about reading…

The Mentor of the Perfect Fireplace

The Mentor of the Haunted Coffin

The Mentor of the Happy Wheelbarrow

The Students of the Windy Wind

Remember: keep the title succinct, intriguing, genre-specific and, if you can, consider the rhythm.

See you on Wednesday for more WIP news, have a great weekend and happy reading!

Work In Progress 3.05

Speaking In Silence

We are now well on the way to Devizes in Wiltshire. In fact, we will be there at any moment. I am comparing the journey of Speaking In Silence to a train ride from London to Bodmin and looking at my old map of the GWR lines, I’d say Devizes was about a third of the way there or 35,000 words in first draft terms. When we reach Bodmin (estimated time of arrival, 100,000 words), we will have to make the return journey via the second and following drafts, but that’s for much later.

Devizes is also appropriate because that is where my villain lives or lived in real life. At least, he was a member of parliament for the area back in 1891 when the story is set. When I say ‘in real life’, I am basing my character on a newspaper article and on a character from it, but because of what he does in the story, I must point out that the real man didn’t do this in real life. He might have done what he was accused of in the newspapers of the time, but the case was never tried, so who can say?

Research this week has seen me looking up chemical reactions, reading first-hand accounts of London’s East End in the 19th century, and the etiquette of a country house Friday-to-Monday, what we now call a weekend. The word ‘weekend’ only came into use just before 1920, so it’s another of those words I can’t use, like ‘okay’, ‘teenager’ or, to a certain extent, ‘adolescent.’ ‘Homosexual’ is another one I shouldn’t use (common usage after 1900, only specialised medical use a few years before), and when my books are filled with homosexual adolescents recounting their okay teenage years at the weekend… Well, I revert to the thesaurus on a regular basis. Meanwhile, Jenine has been researching letters patent and advancement of titles, the process of lobbying for someone to receive an earldom and how that happens. Poor thing.

It’s been a busy journey so far, and we nearly had a derailment around Newbury when I found myself stuck. I had planned an ending, but as the characters started telling me their story, I realised the ending was wrong. I had to think up another direction, and we almost jumped the tracks. Now, though, we’re back on them, and the destination is the same, only with a slight detour. As usual, I can’t tell you too much, but I can say that what the near derailment has done, is force me to write characters as knowing what is going on in the story while not being able to tell the reader. You see, in this book, it’s all about what’s not being said that’s important, and yet an awful lot is said. Hence, Speaking In Silence.

The journey continues…

Work In Progress 3.04

Speaking In Silence

On this train journey from London to Cornwall, which is how I am measuring my progress on Speaking In Silence, we have now reached Reading. That, in my writing world, represents chapter six, and about 20,000 words. The journey was running smoothly until we had engine trouble early last week at Slough.

For the previous few days, I’d been having trouble with my left eye; seeing things floating around in it that I couldn’t wash out. Thinking I should do something about this, I popped down to see our local doctor, who, after an examination, recommended I saw an ophthalmologist. We don’t have one of them here on the island, so, I called my health insurance people, and they agreed to arrange a consultation with one on Rhodes. The agent rang back me late on Tuesday evening to say I had an appointment for 10.15 the next day. Luckily, at this time of year, there is a daily boat leaving at 7.45, so I caught that on Wednesday and was in the ophthalmologist’s chair at the appointed time. After nearly two hours of all kinds of tests, and with my pupils fully dilated for the next six hours, she rang the optical centre down the road, and they told me to come straight on over.

During the time the drops were expanding my pupils to the size of a bushbaby’s eyes, I’d popped out to buy sunglasses to wear over my usual specs, and boy, did I need them as I fumbled my way up the road, across the crossing and down another road, blundering into the medical centre a few minutes later. Another quick consultation with a second specialist and I was in his operating chair within ten minutes of arriving. (You have to love Greece for its abundance of specialists who charge very reasonable rates.) The diagnosis was a tear on my retina, and that’s a tear as in rip, not a tear as in drip. Ten minutes and 150 laser shots later, I was done. Yes, it was painful; like someone sticking a needle in your eye followed by a punch inside your head, though not on every shot, so when you thought it was over and the shots weren’t hurting, you’d get another stab. Afterwards, the doc told me, ‘You can’t jog,’ to which I replied, ‘You’re right, I can’t,’ and I am not to lift weights or bend over or violently shake my head for a month, but I am, at least, repaired.

Anyhow, that kept me from working and caused another hiatus in my journey, but I re-joined the train last Thursday, and have been chugging along ever since.

If you’re wondering why the train references, it’s because the pivotal story point of Speaking In Silence happened on a train journey from Brighton to Croydon in 1891. I am basing my character’s story on a true event from that year, though setting the backstory in 1887 for convenience. The story isn’t all about trains, though they will come into it, it’s about friendship. For those readers hankering for another love story, you might have to hanker a little longer, as this next book will be about friend-love, rather than erotic love.

And on that note, I should sway my way up-carriage and find Edward, the character who is currently telling his friends what happened to him when he was 16, and why a visit to the Larkspur Academy by a group of prominent MPs should have given him cause to run away. I’ll check in with you at the next stop next Wednesday, when, eyes, lasers and bushbabies willing, I will have progressed the story further.

A newly commissioned drawing of one of my favourite characters, get to know him better here

The Author’s Bible

Or, in my case, two bibles, and we’re not talking religious texts. We’re talking about notebooks. Today, I thought I’d take you through my author’s bible. In other words, how I keep track of characters, places, descriptions and facts when writing a long and ongoing series. The photos show my two main notebooks, with brief explanations as to what you are looking at.

In the Beginning…

I have a chest in which I keep my original notes. I started this collection about two years BC (that’s Before Clearwater), and the papers are now yellowing, and the writing is fading. I used to make notes about the stories I was writing on pieces of scrap A4 paper, usually the backs of drafts I’d had printed, and among them is a list of most commonly mistyped words. I use that to check the full manuscript when I reach the end of a draft; words like form and from, for example. But these notes are not my author’s bible, that is a leather-bound, blank page notebook Neil bought me for Christmas 2018, and just after I’d written ‘Curious Moonlight’, I decided to start keeping my story thoughts in it. The first few pages concern a Gormenghast type story I was thinking of writing, and the only thing not now crossed out is a list of names: Anthem, the choirmaster, Pook, a serving boy, Tripp, a footman, and Archie with no job, but whose name means ‘genuine and bold.’

The beginning. As you can see, the Clearwater Series started in January 2019, and the first book was originally titled Deviant Lamplight, then Deviant Devotion and finally, Deviant Desire because the other two ideas were, frankly, terrible.

And therein lies the beginning of the Clearwater Mysteries. ‘A brethren of seven…’ was among my first notes, and I carried that idea over to the Clearwater crew: Archer, Silas, Fecker, James, Thomas… Well, a brethren of five that later becomes seven with Jasper and Billy, and then eight with Mrs Norwood, and so on until I now have a cast of thousands.

So, with 11 Clearwater books and, now, four Larkspur novels, how do I keep track of the details, and why?

Why is Easy

If you read a book and the character has blue eyes in chapter one, but brown eyes in chapter ten… If Larkspur Hall was in Bodmin one moment, and near Bodmin the next, or if Silas’ mother came from Dublin in one book and somewhere else in another… You see where I am going with this? It’s easy, as an author, to think I’ll remember that, and not write things down. Later, say two or three full novels later, you think, Ah yes, I remember I had to remember that, but what was it…? And then, you spend half a day searching your copy of the novel you thought the fact was in, only not to find it, and end up rewriting your section to avoid having to mention the important fact.

Keeping concise but accurate notes about the world you are inventing is safer all-round, even though you think, It’s my world, I won’t forget that.

You will.

How is Another Matter

Every author has their own way of keeping a record, notes, the author’s bible, as it’s commonly known. Some hire people to do it for them, to read the entire series and make notes on everything. Some people do this because they are fans, others, to earn money. I do it as I go, but I don’t do it in any structured way, by which I mean, my bible doesn’t have an index. I do, though, know roughly where to find things, and failing that, I flick through the pages.

Once I knew Deviant Desire was going to lead to a second book, I decided to use my new leather notebook to keep my facts, and started with Archer.

Archer’s notes updated over time.

These two pages contain the basics about my main character. His full name, titles, date of birth and other unchangeable facts like where and when he went to school and his physical description. Over the page, we have a double-page spread about Silas, including the date he and Archer met, and how old he is. Then comes Andrej (Fecker), Thomas, ‘East End and other characters’, minor characters not seen, other locations, a glossary, the list of murders, places and dates (from Deviant Desire), and a page of random notes.

After a blank page comes the name Sam Wright… Crossed out and replaced by Jim… Crossed out and finally replaced by James Joseph Wright, messenger, 25 years old (born Jan 10th 1863), started at post office aged 14, not 100% attractive (sorry, Jimmy), Fecker’s nickname for him Tato (daddy), and ‘James writes with a pen (book 9).’

Moving through the book, I find lists of dates as to when things happened, who works at the house next door, a page listing servants’ wages in 1888, and a rough plan of the ground floor of Clearwater House.

Clearwater House. My first attempt at a layout to help me picture how to get from one room to another, to improve consistency.

As you might have gathered by now, I keep the notes according to the book I am writing at the time. I stop now and then, usually after completing a book, to add to the previous pages and make other notes and lists about the world, not about the stories; that’s a separate matter. For the Clearwater series, I kept story notes in a separate notebook, jotting down ideas and points to answer, clues to solve and how, and story details, then later, I put the pertinent ones in the bible. If I filled the pages of the leather book with story notes, there would be so many things crossed out, it would make the book messy and even harder to read than it is.

Moving on, we next find a page outlining the characters’ skills, because, at that time, I was comparing them to superheroes – not in the stories, but in my head. So Archer was Iron Man and skilled in combat, money, and status. James (Captain America), communications, fitness, strength. Fecker (Thor), strength, loyalty, transport. Thomas (J.A.R.V.I.S.), Logic, cool head, planning… And so on.

For ‘Twisted Tracks’, I drew a map of the railway route I’d invented. Book three’s notes include a page of villains, and who was dead by then, and book four outlines who was on the board of the Clearwater Foundation. Also in the Fallen Splendour section are notes such as ‘Silas wears Curzon cologne’, and ‘Fanny… crossed out, Sarah… crossed out… Mrs Norwood, 40s, James’ old schoolteacher.’

Book five is set at Larkspur Hall, and as that was the first time we’d been there in detail, there’s a list of servants, places on the estate, ‘A patchwork of a property,’ ‘Ruined church from Dissolution’, and ‘abbey given in 1538,’ which is a worry as I am sure I’ve said it was another date in another book.

You see, even though you keep notes, you don’t always use them. I know I once messed up on the address of Clearwater House saying, in one book, it was in Bucks Avenue and then in another that it was in Bucks Row. (Bucks Row was a site of a Jack the Ripper murder.) I was able to go back and change that later, but I am sure there are other minor inconsistencies caused by ‘I remember that, no need to look it up.’

Occasionally, I paste things into the bible, such as this note, written on the back of receipt.

Romanian. Gabriel’s translation and some of my notes about pronunciation.

I was sitting at our local café one day and was joined by a Romanian friend. That was handy because I was writing ‘Bitter Bloodline’, which features a Romanian villain, and although I’d used Google translate, I wanted to be sure the most important sentence in the book was correct. Gabriel, my Romanian mate, wrote it down for me, and then I told him we were talking about Transylvania in 1889. He rewrote it, because the language would have been slightly different, and that’s what that note is all about.

What Else Should Be in the Bible?

I don’t want to bore you with details of every page of my book, but apart from those things mentioned above, it also contains pages titled:

Height, Hair & Build (brief character references)

Skills (again, but with more characters)

Archers’ family tree by three generations

Notes about Larkspur Hall

A calendar of character’s birthdays (Harvey, a minor character, June 2nd, Jasper Blackwood, 1st August, Silas, 21st October, etc.) These minor facts are useful to know and use because they add depth to stories, even if it’s only a mention.

A calendar of years of birth. Archer 1859, Thomas 1861, Fecker, probably 1865 but no-one really knows.

A rough map of the area around Clearwater House

Extended family tree for The Clearwater Inheritance

Who’s Who at Larkspur Hall, March 1890

The guest list for Archer’s 31st birthday party

Ages. Character’s ages through the years and some other major events. This makes it so much easier to remember how old people are. If you look closely, you’ll see that Fecker started renting in 1883 when he was 16, though he may have been older, and James started at the post office (PO) in 1877. You never know when such trivia will come in useful.

And so on and so on until we hit a page on which I have (badly) drawn three standing stones and the title The Larkspur Mysteries, June 2021, and underlined it in red as if it were school homework.

Two Bibles

I’m now a two-bible household. I keep the leather notebook going, and still add to previous pages, while using up more to give the same basic details of the new characters from the Larkspur Mysteries. However, when I started this second series, I decided to use a large, lined book that a friend had made for me. The cover is decorated with the titles of the books from the Clearwater Mysteries, but I am using the book as a bible/notebook for the Larkspur Series.

Big book.
Notes on the viscountcy of Larkspur from 1541 to the present day (1891), for ‘Seeing Through Shadows.’

That’s one example of how I am creating the Larkspur bible alongside the Clearwater bible. I’m not repeating facts from the first to the second, but I am adding facts from the second to relevant places in the first. I’m also using it to outline the stories, track the timeline, create character arcs, and make story notes. The Clearwater bible remains my go-to place for the basics, but now, using the larger Larkspur book, I can keep all my story notes in one, lovely to write on, set of pages and not the old trunk.

Revelations

I hope you found the above interesting. If I have a final point to make about why authors should keep a bible, it’s this:

When you create a fictional world, you are the Creator. You are omnipotent and expected to know all, see all, and care for all you have created. Unless you really are the Creator, it’s unlikely you will store every fabulous fact in your memory, so if in doubt, write it down.

Notebooks yet to be used, except for the green one which I used when writing the Saddling series as James Collins.

As for me, I have plenty more notebooks waiting to be filled…