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.

Work in Progress: 5.08

It’s been a slightly disrupted week in the writing den and is set to become more so. We had the decorators in yesterday as the ceilings in our two work rooms needed painting. They are about ten feet high, so I wasn’t going to be doing that myself. It only took a few hours and the chaps did a great job, but it did mean complete disruption, moving furniture out, taking away everything except the bookcase, covering the desks… you know the drill. A couple of hours shifting stuff on either side of the actual work added to the delay, but I did manage to edit one and a half chapters I’d written the day before.

That’s what I usually do. I write a chapter or part of one each day, usually between 2,500 and 4,000 words depending on time, and the next day, I run through it, tidy it up, remind myself where I was, and then plough on with the next one.

The disruption will continue as we have scheduled power cuts for maintenance between 7.30 and 16.00 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week. For the sake of sharing a topical photohere is the announcement on social media of our power outages.

They may not affect us all that time, but I must be prepared. I can write for four hours on my laptop battery, but after that, I’m in the dark, as it were. We’re also in for force eight or nine winds on Thursday which could get noisy, but the weather is otherwise still amazingly mild for January in the Southern Aegean. We’re up to 16 degrees during the day, and down to twelve at night.

Still, the next book is coming along. At the last count, I was at 140,000 words with around another 20,000 to do. After that, there will be a lot of editing (my favourite part), but I am still on track to finish the Larkspur Series by the end of March.

Hopefully, I will be able to get a blog up on Saturday before we get plunged into darkness; if not, look out for a delayed weekend post on Sunday.

Work In Progress: 5.06

The Larkspur Legacy

The title of this catch-up post is misleading, because I have been working on ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ for more than six weeks, and it’s not my 5th book. It is the 5th book since I started the work-in-progress blog, though, and it is my 6th post about it. So, here’s where I am with the last in the Larkspur series, ‘The Larkspur Legacy.’

Word Count

After finishing yesterday’s draft chapter, I found myself at 105,000 words. I also found myself standing on my balcony with Neil, telling him that, in my estimation, I had at least another ten chapters to write before the first draft story was out of my head. With an average chapter count of 3,000 to 4,000 words, that will take the total word count to around 150,000 words. That is the same length as ‘The Clearwater Inheritance,’ so I am happy with that. I like to give my readers a good, long and rewarding read for the last book of a series. However, my estimate doesn’t include a story that has an effect on the main story, and I’m not sure if I will be able to get that one in. If I don’t, then it will appear in ‘The Clearwater Companion’, the companion to the Clearwater and Larkspur series I am planning to compile once ‘Legacy’ is published.

Notes and books, notes and books…

What’s the Story?

If you have read ‘Starting with Secrets’, you will know that the Clearwater crew are on a mission to solve four clues in a treasure hunt that will, ultimately, unlock a great secret and offer Clearwater and his men a great reward. ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ is all about completing that hunt, but it is also about other things. There are personal stories to settle, there are villains to defeat (or not), there’s a new love story running through one of the four threads of the book, and there will be a twist that I hope no-one will see coming. Eek!

As there are four clues, so there are four stories within the book, although all are related by the overall aim of discovering the secret. This is why you will find several characters travelling to the Mediterranean, a couple travelling to Greece, a couple to another part of Europe, and some staying at Larkspur to deal with the annoyingly persistent villains set up in ‘Starting with Secrets.’ One of those threads is the one I may have to miss out on because of story length, but what happens during that small adventure isn’t as important as what’s found at the end of it, and the action can happen off-stage; as long as the answer comes back to Larkspur, where some of your favourite characters are gathering information while seeking the perfect way to be rid of the various villains. (There are four from previous books, plus a couple of new ones working for them.) Honestly, trying to keep all the pieces together is a feat in itself, but I am having great fun.

A map of the Plaka in Athens from my new, old book.

Research and a Derailment

Clearly, I was not in the Med in 1891 when the story is set, so I have had to research. The books you see today are those I picked up when in Athens recently, so that might give you a clue to one of the destinations in ‘Legacy.’ I also have to research… (No, I won’t name the place, yet) another country. This, I was doing on Monday when I got derailed.

I had set up a throughline where the characters say:

‘We will go to X, then, from there to Y we can go by train. The journey will take us two weeks…’

Having done that, I then plotted and wrote the stories happening elsewhere around that timeline. On Monday, I discovered that there were no trains between X and Y in 1891, and rather than take artistic licence, I said, ‘Bugger!’ and replotted. The journey will now take up to one month, which means that part of the overall story shifts the timeline for all other parts of the story. Always do your research, and do it thoroughly.

(Not the offending book in question)

In my defence, I was using a book advertised as published in 1890 which said the line opened two years ago, only to find out, on Monday, it was actually the 1897 edition and not the one I thought it was. This meant the railway line wasn’t opened until four years after my characters would have been on it, and you know I like to be as accurate as possible with my details.

Anyway… This isn’t getting the writing done, so that’s exactly what I am going to do now. Battle on with the next chapter while keeping copious notes about what I need to change, add, and subtract from what’s already written while taking away the number I first thought of.

I will leave you with a tiny teaser and see you on Saturday!

Work In Progress: 5.04 The Larkspur Legacy

At the last count, The Larkspur Legacy had reached 55,000 words in draft one, and there are still several weeks of the story still to tell. The chase is definitely on, the Clearwater crew is organised, they know what they have to do and have started getting on with solving the mystery and locating the great secret. Unfortunately, the evil, anti-crew are also organised, well-financed and just as determined to achieve their own goals. It looks like everyone is evenly matched for what is going to be a monster of an end-of-series climax.

With many of my novels, I have an opening scene in mind when I start to write, and a closing one, and what happens in between is often only sketched out before I start. With this one, things are different. I know what the epilogue is to be, and I have all threads tied up in my mind and notes. What I don’t have so much are those threads before being tied up. However, knowing how things will end allows me to be creative during the parts in between while keeping myself restricted to only what is plausible to make the ending work. In other words, I have a structure, but it has taken a lot of planning, and currently, my writing/planning desk looks like this…

The atlas is there because the story sees several of the crew travelling to various places, while others remain in England to plot a downfall, keep track of where everyone is, and work on solving the mystery without actually being in the field. From left to right: the Scrabble is there to assist with anagrams, the large notebook is a plot outline of the middle of the story, keeping track of where everyone is and how long it would have taken them to get there, and the piece of paper is my ‘master sheet’ now up on the board beside my writing desk. The atlas is also there so I can visualise routes. Among the notebooks and other bits and pieces, is a compass (as mentioned in the story and in ‘Starting with Secrets’), and a small sextant.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, my typing table looks like this…

Scrap paper for notes, the master plan, a cypher grid, a mosquito spray and a heater I’ve not had to use so far this winter as it’s still 16 degrees at 5.30 in the morning.

It is upwards and onwards now, as the story moves from land to sea (while also staying on land, and in several countries), and where a new love story is about to begin. It might be 55,000 words in already (about a third of the way through), but there’s always time for love.

While all this is going on, don’t forget my Advent calendar quiz and your chance to win an exclusive prize. All the details are on my Facebook Page. I am going to be busy with Christmas promotions and online parties over the next couple of weeks, and I will give you all the details of where you can find me on my next Saturday blog.

You have to be in it to win it!

Work In Progress: 5.03 The Larkspur Legacy

I am up and running on ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, the seventh and last Larkspur Mystery, due out in spring 2023.

I’ve been working on this for some time, making notes and plotting plots while writing ‘Starting with Secrets’, so I am already up to 40,000 words. The title of ‘Starting with Secrets’ refers to the start of a great adventure, Lord Clearwater’s hunt for his mother and godmother’s great ‘treasure’ and ‘secret’, and although the story starts in book six, it is left unfinished and continues in book seven.

As usual, I’ll give away no spoilers, but I can tell you I am currently in a Falmouth shipyard inspecting a schooner barque. For my research, I have been reading books about merchant schooners, studying rigging plans, and looking up all kinds of interesting facts about sailing ships of the late 19th century. It’s a whole new world, and, more exciting for me, a whole new language. I’m also looking up what I call ‘sailor speak’ to get the terminology the sailors in my story would have used, while also looking into mysteries of the past, European travel of the time, Thomas Cook escorted tours, and other related matters.

Falmouth Harbour

Talking of spoilers, I used to outline my plots to Neil, as it is always useful to have someone to bounce ideas off. However, there is such a big twist at the end of ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, I must throw around my ideas in code, so I don’t spoil his reading for the first draft. He won’t get to see it until next year, but if I can continue at the pace I am, I should have it ready for him to beta read around February. Having said that, comparing the current word count to the basic plot outline, I am only about one-fifth of the way through. Either I will end up with a novel at 200,000 words, or I will have to cut some ideas and slash the draft when completed. ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ came in at 150,000 words, and I am aiming for the same for ‘the Larkspur Legacy.’

You will note, perhaps, a similarity in the titles (Inheritance and Legacy). Both end a series, and both involve something left behind for another. There is always a double meaning in my titles.

I will say no more, except to remind you to take part in with my Advent quiz via my Facebook page. 26 books, 25 days, 25 chances to win a special prize soon to be announced (and it won’t be a book, but a one-off… something that only the winner will receive).

The Larkspur Legacy: A New Work in Progress 5.01

As it always is with me, once one book is out, it’s a case of ‘on with the next’, and today is no exception. Actually, I started work on ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ a few weeks ago, because what happens in ‘Starting with Secrets’ has a bearing on what comes next.

While writing the last book, I made notes about the next one, and that led me to a basic plot outline. Since early this year, I have had scenes in my head, moments from the novel I want to get in, twists, ideas and scenarios, and I am still thinking them up. I have, though, started writing, and have four draft chapters already, plus the more detailed outline, though that still has some holes in it. The characters will fill those in later when they start taking over the story.

I’ve also started on my research, and am currently reading this…

‘The Larkspur Legacy’ is going to involve a group of characters aboard a schooner, a clipper or barquentine, something like this…

As you can see, these pages are from The Merchant Schooners by Basil Greenhill, a two-volume look at the history, building, launching and sailing of these vessels. I have already picked up some words and expressions and read several excellent descriptions of boatyards, shipbuilding villages and ships.

So, it’s back to 1891 and chapter five. Before I go, I must thank everyone who supported the launch of ‘Starting with Secrets.’ It went straight to #2 in the Amazon charts of new releases/historical.

Starting with Secrets: What is it?

Starting with Secrets’ is the title of the sixth Larkspur Academy mystery, and is the first part of a two-part adventure set in the Clearwater world. This, as you may know, is my invention of late 19th-century England. Both the Clearwater and Larkspur mystery series is set among real places, and feature people who lived at the time, but the main cast is invented characters. Many of the background events are true, and the Clearwater world sticks to actual dates and times as much as possible. I am even able to have characters take train journeys according to extant timetables of the time, down to the day of the week, route and times of the trains. I love adding that kind of detail.

Starting with Secrets has such a train journey, and it also uses real locations, described as best I can according to reports and documents of the time. In this case, we have the invented estate of Larkspur Hall, another one in Hertfordshire, Clearwater House (somewhere on the edge of Hyde Park in Knightsbridge, London), and Greychurch, which is my name for Whitechapel. The characters find themselves in some well-known locations, such as inside the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral and the Round Reading Room at the British Museum, both in London. They also visit villages that still exist today, although I have changed the names of two of the main locations to not upset anyone who might still be living there or who might own the property I have adapted.

I won’t give away the plot of ‘Starting with Secrets’, but if you like a good Dan Brown mystery/adventure, and if you like historically based riddles and conspiracy theories, then you’ll like this novel. I’ve tried to write it so you can solve the clues as the story progresses. At least, you can with some of them. What I am also trying to do with this two-part adventure is bring in as many of the Clearwater and Larkspur main characters as I can without losing focus. There is a relationship story, a background emotional reason for two characters to sort themselves out, and there is at least one ‘Ahh’ moment when I, for one, experienced a shiver and the prick of tears. You will find villains, heroes and a couple of new characters that we’ll learn more about in part two, and there’s a lot going on in the background where existing characters’ lives are developed.

It’s been three years since the saga started with ‘Deviant Desire’, the first Clearwater mystery, and even longer since Silas and Andrej met in ‘Banyak & Fecks.’ Actually, the more I write these series, the more I realise the whole lot tells the story of Andrej, a Ukrainian immigrant who fled his homeland to escape the Russians. (Nothing changes.)

Although Andrej, ‘Fecks’, is not the main-view character in ‘Starting with Secrets’, he is there, along with others we met in book one of the Clearwater series, Lucy Roberts the maid-then-cook, for example. Archer, Silas, James, Tom and Andrej, the ‘canonical five’ as I call them, form the centre of the cast for this one, and they are aided by the Larkspur Academy men, Dalston Blaze, Joe Tanner, Chester, Frank, Edward and Henry, and the new man, Bertie Tucker. Bertie’s a sailor, or was until he got caught doing something that was, in those days, illegal, and he’s the unwitting catalyst in both action and emotional storylines.

But that’s enough of a teaser for now. As I write (Friday), I am waiting for the final files to come back from being laid out, and then, as I now have both covers, I shall be able to upload the book to Amazon and you’ll be able to download it, order it in paperback or read it in Kindle Unlimited, as you can with all my novels. So, not long now, and you will have a 380-page adventure, bromance, mystery, treasure hunt story to get your teeth into, while I carry on biting away at the last in the Larkspur series, ‘The Larkspur Legacy.’

Keep an eye on my Facebook page for news of the publication day, and why not join my group, Jackson’s Deviant Desires where I post more personal news from time to time and where you and others can discuss any or all of my books.

Starting with Secrets: Cover Reveal

I have sent ‘Starting with Secrets’ to be formatted, I have both covers, and we’re nearly ready to launch the sixth Larkspur Mystery upon you. To reward you for your patience, today we have the blurb and the cover reveal.

It feels as if it’s been a long journey to get this novel ready to add to the series, but in truth, it’s not taken any longer than any of the others. It has taken more research and there is a lot more detail, there are more clues than ever, and a wide cast of main players. ‘Secrets’ has probably taken up more pages in my notebook than any of the others too, and when you get deeper into the story you will realise why.

Now, I must start work proper on the last in the series, and if I thought ‘Secrets’ was a hard beast to tame, I am sure ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ is going to be even more in-depth, detailed, complicated and yet fun to get right. Work on that starts this afternoon. Meanwhile, here’s the blurb for ‘Secrets’ which should be available in a few days.

Starting with Secrets

The Larkspur Mysteries

Book Six

“The greatest reward often lies at the end of the stoniest path.”

Lady Dorothy Marshall, March 1891

When Lord Clearwater inherits a set of enigmatic clues and a compass, it becomes clear he has the means to uncover a momentous secret. He calls upon the men of the Larkspur Academy to help with the hunt, including the latest recruit, the bewildered ex-sailor, Bertie Tucker.

The academy men investigate follies, national monuments and ancient churches, using their diverse skills to unlock a series of random messages. The men must work together to find Clearwater’s secret and ‘treasure’, but relationships threaten the status quo. Edward Hyde has turned his affections from Henry and aimed them at Bertie Tucker, opening a rift which must be mended if the hunt is to succeed.

And when two of Clearwater’s adversaries conspire to beat him to the secret, what begins as an adventure becomes a game of cat and mouse that leads to a fight for survival.

Starting with Secrets is the sixth book in the Larkspur Mysteries series. With themes of friendship, bromance, male love and revenge, the story is the first part of a two-part adventure, and combines historical fact with fiction. As with all of Jackson Marsh’s mysteries, the novel contains humour, love and action, while offering the reader the chance to solve the clues with the cast of disparate, well-drawn characters.

Cover Reveal

Click the image to open the full front cover.

The Writers’ Museum, Edinburgh, Grave Robbers and Dracula

Hello! I’m not long back from our trip to Scotland, and it’s high time I gave you an update of what’s going on in the world of Jackson Marsh. There’s more about the next Larkspur book in a moment, but first…

On the way to our son’s wedding, I found myself alone in Edinburgh for a day, and there, wandered the old streets and the new, admired the buildings and visited the castle grounds. While on my walkabout, I stopped off at The White Hart, reputed to be the oldest inn in the city and a place where the grave-robbers Burke and Hare used to hang out.

Later, I was just thinking about heading back to my hotel when I stumbled upon the Writers’ Museum. This is a collection of artefacts and information pertaining to three Scottish writers; Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. It’s housed in Lady Stair’s House in the Lawnmarket area of the city, and the building is as interesting as the exhibits. I took a few (bad photos) which you can see below.

A few days later, I was in Inverness with my brother-in-law while waiting for Neil and his son to collect us and take us to the wedding. This was held in a castle by the river and was a splendid affair, and yes, I wore a kilt. The architecture of old Inverness along its riverbank was somewhat inspirational, so I’ve included a couple of shots I took there.

Now back at home, where the weather is glorious, I am back at work. I have a backlog of freelance typing to catch up on while I am also going through the final read of ‘Starting with Secrets’, the next Larkspur mystery. I am still aiming to have this ready for you in a week or so—probably more like two—and will send it off for its laying out next week. Andjela has done herself proud with another stunning cover and there will be a cover reveal soon. So, stay tuned to this channel for more information on my Wednesday work-in-progress blog, and prepare yourself for the first half of an epic Clearwater/Larkspur adventure that will conclude in the final book of the series. I am hoping to start on that as soon as ‘Starting with Secrets’ is published.

Meanwhile, here are a few of my dodgy shots of the Writer’s Museum, Edinburgh, and the riverside in Inverness.

The grand hall, now a gift shop.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s childhood rocking horse. Looks rather painful.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s pipe.
The three great men in art form.
It was Halloween, so I bought another copy of Dracula and read some of it back at the hotel.
Inverness Castle.

Work In Progress: 4.13

Starting with Secrets and an Upcoming Journey

Lucky for some, this is the thirteenth post about my work in progress, ‘Starting with Secrets’, the sixth Larkspur Mystery. And the news is…

I am currently doing the last read before sending the MS off to be proofed on Friday. Andjela has designed the cover and there will be a reveal in due course. Also on Friday, Neil and I are off to Scotland for our son’s wedding, and I shan’t be at my desk again until November 9th, so expect no more updates to my blog until that week.

The journey to Scotland and back has already taken on epic proportions, in the style of a Clearwater novel actually, or any decent adventure story. All good dramas need conflict because you can’t have one without the other, and although I’m pleased to say we have no villains on our backs, we have already met a few challenges. To start with, KLM managed to charge me three times for one flight, and when we finally sorted it out and I got two refunds, the flight was from the wrong airport. However, we could live with that because although it meant a four-hour train journey on 5th November, the route takes us through the Scottish Highlands. If only it were on a steam train!

If only there wasn’t now the possibility of a train strike on the 5th of November either. We’re not sure yet if that will affect us, but in case it does, we have tickets booked on a coach as well. To add insult to KLM’s injury, they ended up cancelling our flight and moving it to some ridiculous time the following day. This would have meant another night in a costly hotel, plus missing a night already paid for in another, and travelling from two in the morning until about seven that night. I took the refund option and booked better and direct flights with Aegean, my favourite airline. Better times, better service, flexible and fair, though a little more expensive, the difference was less than the cost of the extra hotel.

Living on an island is wonderful; getting off it sometimes isn’t. We were due to leave on Friday evening on a ferry departing at 20.30 or something sensible. Thanks to a strike by some ferry workers yesterday, our boat will fall behind schedule, and now, instead of departing on Friday evening, we’re leaving at 02.50 on Saturday morning. That’ll be a bit of a bleary-eyed experience, but worth it as we will see much of the 18-hour journey in daylight, whereas usually, we sleep through the more interesting destinations.

So, with boats, taxis, trains and possibly coaches, we’ll be getting into Victorian mystery mode as we spend one night here before heading there, and from there, to somewhere else the next day, with only two days where we have a whole day without travelling. During those days, I intend to visit Edinburgh Castle, meet the latest grandchildren, and Neil will be fitted for a kilt. Och aye, it’ll be a fair fun twelve days. Assuming there are no more strikes or cancellations.

Whatever happens, I’ll be back online after 9th November and will give you a full update on Starting with Secrets.