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…

Work In Progress 2.14

Seeing Through Shadows – Release

I’m pleased to tell you that the Larkspur Mysteries book four, Seeing Through Shadows, is now uploaded on Amazon. It should be available for you in Kindle, KU and in paperback in the next couple of days. (edit, it is now live!)

As you can see from the title of this brief post, this is week 14 in this book’s life. (The 2 refers to the fact this is my second book since starting the WIP blog, the 14 refers to the week.) Some books, they say, write themselves, and Seeing Through Shadows was one of them. I started with an idea, made some notes and did some research, as I always do, and drew a simple outline. After that, the characters took over, I kept them in line with the structure I wanted, and I was strict with myself when first-drafting, which meant less time had to be taken on the following drafts and edits. I think I’m finally getting this process down now, and once an idea has formed, it’s taking me less time to write a novel.

What’s interesting about ‘Shadows’ is that the idea came about back in 2018, before I’d even thought about the Clearwater Mysteries, let alone the Larkspur mysteries. I’d just finished writing ‘Curious Moonlight’, a kind of ghost story and first love mashup, and considered writing a sequel.

Curious Moonlight is about two guys meeting, and having their relationship hampered by a troubled and troublesome ghost called Billy. I thought it might be fun to have the three team up as spectral investigators, with Billy being ever present and always naughty. I invented a location (Blackwood Abbey), and a history of a ghostly sighting, drew a plan of the estate and mapped out the story, but never sat down to write it.

In a way, I am glad I didn’t, because Blackwood Abbey eventually became Larkspur Hall, and what I was doing back then was only planting the seed of an idea. When you read Shadows and learn the history of the Larkspur ghost, it is actually the same history of that created for the Curious Moonlight sequel that never was. The twist at the end of Shadows was to be the explanation for the Curious ghost (kind of), and the Larkspur estate is more of less what I’d made up for Curious. Confused? Never mind, it’ll become clear when you read Seeing Through Shadows.

Meanwhile, you can find Curious Moonlight here.

“He’s back. He’s angry, and I am fleeing for my life.”

Escaping bad choices, Luke Grey arrives in the Cornish fishing village of Madenly determined never to fall in love with a straight man again. But then he meets Peran Box.

Peran’s passion for investigating historical mysteries is his only escape from a loveless relationship. But then he meets Luke.

Attracted to each other’s differences, the two embark on an intense friendship which sparks hope for Luke and ignites Peran’s gay-curious feelings.

But then they meet Billy, dead for three-hundred years and determined to keep them apart until the mystery of his murder is solved.

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