Keepers of the Past

Keepers of the Past

The Larkspur Mysteries book two has its title, ‘Keepers of the Past.’ I am now nearing the end of the first draft and have one and a half chapters left to go. I am getting back to them as soon as I finish this brief update. We were invited to a wedding which took up a few days at the end of the week, hence this post coming on Sunday, not Saturday, but now there is little in my diary to interrupt a return to full steam ahead.

I may have said before, but one reason ‘Keepers’ feels like it’s taken me a long time to first draft is because of the research, which has included reading about standing stones, ancient history, and finding genuine accounts of missing people from the newspaper archives. Another reason is because this is the first book since ‘Deviant Desire’ that doesn’t include a familiar cast of characters.

‘Guardians of the Poor’, book one in the new series, is a handover novel. It acted as a way of joining the Clearwater cast to the new Larkspur world. With ‘Guardians’, I had Clearwater, James, Silas and others to fall back on, and as they arrived already created, they were easy to manoeuvre into the story. With ‘Keepers’, I’ve had to do a lot more work on Joe Tanner and Dalston. Fleet has more to do in this story, Clem and Frank, too, because most of the story is set at Academy House. Lord Clearwater is away, and although Thomas, Fecker and Barnett make appearances (as does Jasper, briefly), most of the characters in the story are new to us. Clearwater is about to make his appearance in the final chapter, so I should be back on familiar ground by the end of today’s writing session.

I’ve opened a dialogue with Andjela about the cover, and I have had ‘Dazzling’ my illustrator draw a couple of illustrations to insert at the front of the book. She has produced two drawings, one of which I’ll show you here. The other, you will have to wait for, but it’s not a portrait as we had in book one. The illustration is below.

There are two mysteries in ‘Keepers’, but they collide. In brief, Joe Tanner is tasked by Lord Clearwater to research the history and meaning of symbols carved into two standing stones on his estate. As Joe, who is deaf and uses sign language, sets about doing this, a relative of Joe’s new friend, David, the younger groom, is due to arrive from America but has gone missing. While working on the stones, Joe uncovers news of similar disappearances, and wonders if they might have something to do with the carvings. Thus, one mystery is connected to the other, and, being me, an action climax is guaranteed.

I shan’t say more today, because I am keen to return to chapter 28, which I have left unfinished, and then on to chapter 29, the final chapter, and then… Then I start all over again with draft two. I’ll leave you with Dazzling’s drawing of two sides of one of the standing stones. This made an appearance in ‘Guardians’ you may remember, and yes, the ’rounded arrow’ is meant to look like a…

The Larkspur Mysteries Book Two

The Larkspur Mysteries Book Two

I have to admit, this Larkspur Mysteries Two is taking me some time to draft. There are a few reasons for this.

Standing Stones

The book is taking a fair amount of research. It’s one of those stories that I want to make as accurate as possible, yet be able to bend the facts to suit. It’s set in an actual place, Bodmin Moor in England, and includes references to real places, in this case, standing stone circles and other ancient monuments. However, they’re not all in the places I want them to be, so I have ‘fiddled’ with a couple, and invented a couple of my own. Researching where they are, and how they can provide clues to the mystery, is taking time, as is the background reading about such stones and their place in history.

Writing Deaf

Another thing that is causing me to write slowly is getting to grips with the character of Joe Tanner, my deaf leading man. It’s not just a case of being careful not to write, ‘he said,’ but to use ‘he signed’ instead, and there are many other factors to consider from a technical point of view. For example: I have a scene where Joe is out on the moor, the weather is foul, and a thunderstorm is coming in. The scene is from Joe’s point of view, so I cannot describe any sounds. Therefore, we, the reader, have to feel the thunder. I have to create the atmosphere with one sense missing, sound, because Joe doesn’t know what sound is. That’s proving to be interesting to write, and his deafness has a knock-on effect on other characters.

Dalston, his lover, knows how to sign, and Joe can read lips if people speak clearly, but until now, if Joe wanted to communicate with another character, he had to have Dalston there to interpret. He uses the written word, of course, and has improved his writing under Fleet’s guidance, and he can read. Some of the other characters have been having lessons in sign with varying degrees of success, so I have found a way around that issue.

The OS map is permanently open on my desk these days

How does a man deaf since birth read? Joe doesn’t hear the words in his head. He can’t. He’s never heard them out of his head, so, instead, he uses images. He visualises what he’s reading if you like, but as he is currently reading books about ancient standing stones, and he’s never seen half of what he is reading about (long barrows, menhirs, cists etc.), Fleet has been offering him illustrations to assist.

Joe is the MC in this story, a spotlight he shares with Dalston, and I’m really enjoying the challenge. By the way, Neil and I have now both passed our course in basic British Sign Language (BSL), and intend to keep it going between us, for practice, add more words and phrases to our arsenal, and, hopefully, improve.

Complicated Plot

You know me, I like to make my mysteries challenging for the characters and thus, the reader, and yet aim for a satisfying denouement. Well, this one is not only complicated by Joe’s deafness and a shift in his relationship with Dalston, but also by the subject matter.

My very dodgy sketch of the symbols that play a big part in the story

It’s actually a simple challenge. Lord Clearwater wants to know the story of the ancient monoliths that stand within his property boundary. What were they for? Why is there one embedded in the walls of the ruined abbey? And what do the symbols mean? Carved stones are rare in Cornwall, it’s more of a Pictish thing, apparently, and yet, one of the standing stones has carvings on it. Lord Clearwater’s mystery is only one thread, however, there is another far more sinister but also historic, and that, Joe stumbles upon while researching the stone row. I won’t say too much more about that, because I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but suffice to say, there is also a deadline, there will be an ‘action climax’ when I get to it (I am nearly there), and, hopefully, everything will tie up and make sense. Right now, I am reaching the part in the story where clues are coming together and, for the sake of accuracy, I am having to go back and forth between the written chapters to ensure the clues laid down early on, tie-up with the untangling of the plot at the crisis point.

And then there are visitors.

At this time of year, we have many regular visitors returning to the island where we live. Neil works in a bar, and it’s very popular with British visitors who like to come and say hello and catch up on island news. In the winter months, I’m a ‘bed at nine’ kind of person and am often up at three or four in the morning to start work. Right now, though, we are being taken out to dinner, and we’re entertaining at home sometimes, and that means later nights, and thus, later mornings. My writing time is compressed somewhat, as is my energy. Not complaining, it’s a very sociable time of year and makes up for the seven months of winter when we hardly see anyone, but I am more tired than usual, so I am working slower.

Recent early morning view from the balcony

But I am still ploughing through draft one of Larkspur two. I am up to 85,000 words, with probably another 25,000 to go, and I am aiming to have the draft finished in the next two weeks. After that, there will be the second and third draft, the cover to commission, and so on, and of course, the title to find. That’s yet to fall into place, but it will before long. In the meantime, I have commissioned my illustrator to produce a much better version of my sketch of the standing stones, and I am expecting a miraculous drawing or two to come through within the next week or so. I’ll post it on a future blog when it does.

I’ll be back next week with more author chat, but for now, it’s back to the mystery…

https://www.facebook.com/jacksonmarshauthor/

An Author in August

An Author in August

Today, I wanted to catch you up on general news, where I am with the new book, and what life is like in the Southern Aegean in August. Let’s start with that one…

Fires and Silence

It’s hot. We’re seeing temperatures in the 40s most days, we’ve not had any rain since May and then it was only a smattering, and we’re currently under a cloud of ash that is still hanging about following serious forest fires in Turkey. Turkey is just over the water from us, about three miles away at its closest point, and we can see villages and roads from our island. Last week, we could also see flames and masses of smoke as wildfires broke out along the coastline. There have been some on the island of Rhodes too, but I think they are all now under control. Wildfires are raging around Athens at the moment too. Fires are common at this time of year but have been made worse because of a heatwave.

The smoke that’s hanging around in the atmosphere covered the sun, which made for a strange, almost eclipse-like, light. Thursday was an unusual day because there were no sparrows chirping, and no cicadas grating, as if the wildlife thought it was dusk. They stayed eerily silent.

Luckily, our island remains safe, though hot, and we have a forest here, so the authorities are on guard, and everyone is being careful. Meanwhile, I am at my desk with two fans on me and towels where I rest my sweaty arms (otherwise they slide off). All the windows are open, everything is covered in a layer of ash, even where I hoovered and dusted the day before, and we’re getting on with summer life.

Sign Language

We’re also getting on with learning BSL (British Sign Language) as best we can online. I am on part four of a nine-part course, and about to start part five. So far, it’s been mainly learning nouns, alphabet, numbers and a few questions. Neil and I sit opposite each other when I go to visit him at work at the bar, and we practice our signs on each other. They’re not so hard to remember and do, but harder to recognise when someone signs back at you. It’s all about practice, and it’s proving useful research for my writing.

Guardians of the Poor

As I write, the final draft is with my proofreader, and I should get the MS back next week. Then, I will read through it for the last time and send it to have the interior laid out. That usually only takes a couple of days. I then check it again, and after that, it will be ready to publish. I imagine we’re looking at publication around the 20th of August if not slightly before.

Joe Tanner

‘Guardians’ is the first of the Larkspur series of mystery/bromance/adventure novels in the vein of the Clearwater Mysteries, but focusing on new characters who pass through the Larkspur Academy. That’s the institution Archer sets up at the end of the Clearwater series, a place where young men can come and, as he puts it, ‘better themselves.’ It’s an odd concept, but so far, it’s working. Through his London contacts like Jimmy Wright and Silas, Archer finds young men (18 years old and upwards, mainly), and gives them a place at the academy under the mentorship of the man he’s found to run it, Barbary Fleet. It’s not a school, it’s not compulsory and there are only four or five men there at any time. They all have special talents and deserve a chance in life, and mainly, they are gay. Of course, ‘gay’ wasn’t gay in 1890, but Archer knows when a man needs support and needs to come out, as we’d call it. The fact that they all get involved in some kind of mystery is, of course, what the stories are about; that and young men struggling with their sexuality, each other, falling in love, out of love, friendship and fighting hard to make a go of it.

As ‘Guardians’ is almost ready, I have turned my attention to the second in the series…

A Vow of Silence

‘Guardians’ features a character called Joe Tanner, who is profoundly deaf and has been since birth. I am keeping him and Dalston Blaze as the central pair of book two, ‘A Vow of Silence.’ Dalston is the main character in Guardians (along with Archer, the story is mainly from their point of view), but I want Joe to be the MC in ‘Vow’ because I want to write from a deaf man’s point of view, although there will be other characters’ viewpoints too.

‘Vow’ follows on from ‘Guardians’, and, like the first book, it is inspired by a real newspaper report and an actual event. I’ll say no more just now because I’ve only got as far as jotting down a basic plot, and anything can change.

And Finally

Make sure you keep an eye on this blog and on my Facebook page for the cover reveal of ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ It’s another corker from Andjela J, and the drawing (above) of Joe Tanner will give you a clue. Check back next week when more will be revealed…

WIP: Guardians of the Poor

Guardians of the Poor

This week, I want to share with you some inside info on my work in progress. Don’t worry, there are no spoilers.

The Larkspur Mysteries

I have started book one in my new series, ‘The Larkspur Mysteries’, and it’s titled ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ This series follows on from The Clearwater Mysteries, starting a few months after the end of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’

Clearwater has set up his ‘academy’, a place where disadvantaged young men can develop their talents and skills. The men come from the streets, the Cheap Street Mission (for ex-rent boys), or from an impoverished elsewhere, but they have all caught Clearwater’s attention because of circumstance, ability or the ‘crime’ of being gay. Academy House, on the Larkspur estate, is under the leadership of a new character called Barbary Fleet, and if you thought Doctor Markland was bonkers, wait until you meet Fleet. At the start of the series, the House only houses four young men, and when we arrive there later in the book, two of them are already on their way to success.

So, it’s a low-key start for the Larkspur Academy (which is not a school), but my intention is to base each new mystery around either the House or someone living there. They won’t all be based on the Larkspur Estate, though. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, in Bow Street Magistrate’s Court…

The story starts with a newspaper article. In fact, it is almost a direct copy of the article that inspired the story, adjusted to fit my plot and character names. My main character is up in court and is being defended by Sir Easterby Creswell, assisted by James Wright. The strange thing, however, is that the main character wants to be sentenced because prison is the only way out of a life-or-death predicament.

He is called Dalston Blaze, and the story is about him and his friend from the workhouse, Joe Tanner. Joe is deaf, and although he’s not on stage much, he is, if you like, the protagonist. It’s him we are putting on the cover, and the lady who does my character drawings, DazzlingDezigns, drew me a portrait based on the model’s photo that Andjela is currently using to produce the cover.

You’ll have noticed that there are already two characters from the Clearwater Mysteries on stage, Cresswell and James. Also appearing in the line up for ‘Guardians’ are, in order of appearance, Silas, Mrs Norwood, Duncan Fairbairn, Archer Lord Clearwater, Jasper Blackwood, Nancarrow, Billy Barnett, Jonathan and Maxwell the footmen, Danylo and Andrej (Fecker) and, if you remember her, Mrs Flintwich, the original cook from ‘Deviant Desire.’

That looks like a big cast list, but some of our favourites only appear briefly because they are staff on the estate, and Dalston Blaze gets to meet some. The story is mainly told from Dalston and Archer’s points of view, though there are some scenes that involve Detective James Wright.

Who Were the Guardians and Why the Poor?

So, what does the title mean?

Dalston and his friend Joe are worker-inmates at the Hackney Workhouse. (Now both 18, they are employed as kitchen helpers, but they still live in the institution, thus, they are worker-inmates.) The workhouses were places funded by the ratepayers of the borough, where the destitute could go for shelter. It’s more complicated than that, but people could apply to become ‘inmates’ and if the board of Guardians approved their cases, could then expect to be housed and fed for as long as necessary. Some ‘indoor paupers’ stayed at the workhouse for years, while others, the ‘in and outs’, only stayed a few nights. Those who only needed a bed for one night, the ‘casuals’, were accommodated in a separate ‘ward’, and if you read ‘Banyak & Fecks’, you’ll get a decent account of what a night in the casual ward was like.

The Hackney Workhouse.

Joe and Dalston have been in the workhouse a long time. Dalston since birth and Joe since the age of 12. Living in a workhouse for so long was uncommon because children were usually sent to orphanages, children’s homes or fostered out, but it happened. If you want to know more about workhouse life, read one or all of the books by Peter Higginbotham, some of which I have been using for my research.

The Guardians were, in effect, the Board of Guardians, or if you like, the Workhouse oversight committee, the gentry and interested parties elected to see to the running of the institutions. Elected, because they were dealing with ratepayers’ money, and thus, the workhouses were accountable to the community.

And it is that accountability that is the catalyst in ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ You see, at my Hackney Workhouse, things are not as they should be. Someone has a whacking great dirty secret he wants covered up, but my protagonist, Joe the deaf guy (now aged 18), knows the secret, and he has the evidence to expose the scandal. Joe and Dalston had a plan, but now Joe is in hiding with the incriminating evidence, and Dalston is in court needing to go to gaol, otherwise, he will be killed for what he knows.

Part of the mystery involves strange symbols written on standing stones.

Enter Clearwater and the Larkspur Academy, and off we go into the story which I shan’t tell you about because I don’t what to spoil it for you. I will say, however, it involves the new academy, the Larkspur estate and house, but also symbols ancient and new, sign language, a fair amount of real history, a young man coming to terms with his sexuality, and an ending that leaves things open for book two.

So, in my story, the Guardians of the Poor are many. The workhouse board of guardians, the two characters who try to expose the nasty secret, and Lord Clearwater and his crew who guard disadvantaged young men who may also be ‘on the crew’ (his euphemism for being gay).

When will Guardians be Ready?

I can’t say just yet. I have finished the second draft at 106,000 words, and now need to go through it line by line for edits. I need to remove some repetitions and unnecessary ideas. When I write a first draft, I often put things into the story that I think will be useful later, or I write a dreadful sentence because I can’t think how to say something decently, and I’ll come back to it. Later, I have to go back to these and either get rid of them or improve them, and often by then, I’ve forgotten I put them there. So, I tread carefully through drafts two and three, which is what I am doing now, and when that is done, I will read the whole thing as one continuous story and make sure it works. Then, there may be more edits before I send it to Ann for proofreading, and after it is laid out, to Maryann for an ARC review. Meanwhile… Andjela is working on the cover.

My writing room.

That’s why I can’t say when the book will be released, but I hope to have it with you by the end of September. I also need to work out what book two will be about as I like to mention the next in a series at the end of the one before.

And that’s me for this week. It’s 40 degrees outside and humid. I have my godson coming for his piano lesson later, and before then, I still have 15 chapters to pick apart and put back together. So, I’ll leave you now and wish you a happy week to come, and hope to see you back here next Saturday.

Last week we took our oldest godson to dinner for his 18th birthday.

Researching and the Larkspur Mystery Series

Researching and the Larkspur Mystery Series

Hi everyone,

This Saturday, I thought I’d tell you how I’m doing with the new series, The Larkspur Mysteries. I also have a treat for you at the end of this blog in the form of a flash fiction piece, but we will get to that later.

What are the Larkspur Mysteries to be?

A series of mysteries that revolve around a central character who is in some way involved with Lord Clearwater’s new Larkspur Academy. The Larkspur Academy is a place where young men can develop their unique talents and was inspired by Jasper Blackwood and Billy Barnett from the Clearwater Mysteries. Although it is overseen by the Clearwater Estate, it is run by a mentor instead of a headmaster as it is not a school, and he lives in the house with his men. They are not students as it is not a college, and deciding what to refer to them as has been one of my first headaches.

Merevale Hall, the buliding on which the Larkspur Academy is based.

The mentor is the eccentric but brilliant Barbary Fleet, and when the series starts, he and the academy have been in place for four months. There are already four young men there, benefiting from the Clearwater contacts, Fleet’s way of improving people, and from having space simply to be themselves.

Each story will take a central character. I was going to start the series off with Barbary Fleet himself and show how he came to be chosen to run this unusual establishment. I thought about giving readers a ‘how the academy started’ story along with Fleet’s own, but I’ve decided to do that in a later book. A little like how Banyak & Fecks is the prequel to the Clearwater Mysteries and yet wasn’t written until after book eight. By the time I have written a few of these new mysteries, I will know more about Fleet and the academy, which will make for a better prequel.

Anyway…

What is the First Story?

LLoyd’s Weekly London Newspaper June 1st 1890

Each of the stories will start with, or be inspired by, an actual event. The first book had a working title of ‘Dalston Blaze’, and I considered titling each one after the principal character. However, now I am 60,000 words into the first draft, I have thought of another working title, ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ We shall see. Whatever the title, the story was inspired by an article I found in Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper, dated June 1st 1890, exactly the right time for the period of my story. The piece was headed, The Chelsea Workhouse Scandals and the opening reads thus: Joseph Bailey, 35, porter, and Hugh Johnson, 16, were indicted for inciting each other to the commission of unnatural offences… Another line, later in the piece, states …the jury, after what they had heard, did not desire to hear counsel for the defence, which I thought was outrageous.

What set me off on a trail towards a mystery was the idea that two men were tried (unfairly, by the sound of it) for intending to have sex together, the unnatural offences mentioned in the report. What we have, are two men in a workhouse and facing five years of penal servitude for, as we’d say now, being gay. (Five years is what the older one got, the younger one’s sentencing was postponed, and I’ve not been able to find out what happened to him.) That sounds exactly like the kind of thing Clearwater would get his teeth into, and just the sort of men he would want to save, but how to mould a mystery?

The Hackney Workhouse.

What if the character in the dock, who we’ll call Dalston Blaze and who is 18, wants to be sentenced? What if it is his only way of avoiding death? And what if he is being guarded in the dock by a young Irishman posing as a policeman who is there to spring him from gaol? What if a new barrister has been called to represent him, a man called Sir Easterby Cresswell, who has an assistant by the name of Wright? And what if, by some ancient legal argument, Creswell holds off the sentencing until the partner in crime, who is missing, has been found? What if the missing man, also 18 and from the workhouse, was also a deaf mute? And what if the ‘evidence’ against the two was a message written in symbols because that’s how they communicate?

Then… What if Dalston finds himself bailed to the care of the Larkspur Academy?

And so it went on.

Inside the Hackney Workhouse, stone-breaking yard.

I have not only been researching old newspapers for stories to inspire, but I have also been looking into workhouses and sign language because my missing character is deaf from birth. The mystery is mainly ‘Why does someone want to kill these two workhouse boys?’ They are, by then, porters, but they have grown up together in the workhouse since they were twelve. They are best friends (possibly more?) and communicate via signs and symbols. Then, there is the mystery of what has happened to the missing deaf man, Joe?

Workhouse Children, Dalston Blaze when young.

It’s been a fascinating journey so far, and my research list is growing longer by the day. I don’t know when this book will be ready, there’s a long way to go yet, and it’s only the first draft. As it sets up the feel for the rest of the series, I need to make sure I get it right, so bear with me.

Meanwhile, here are some of the sites I’ve been using, along with books, for my research, in case anyone is interested in knowing more about the Victorian Workhouse, and the development of British Sign Language (BSL). After this list, I have the flash fiction treat for you.

The British Newspaper Archive
Homosexuality In Nineteenth-Century England
Workhouses.org (My workhouse is based on the one at Hackney)
Brief History of BSL


Lord Bastion Announces

This was a piece I wrote for an anthology. It’s my first piece of flash fiction, i.e. a very short story complete in itself. As you can tell from my books, I tend not to write short stories, lol! So, this was something of a challenge to produce, but in the end, I was rather proud of it and thought I’d share it with my readers. Enjoy, and I’ll be back next week.

Jackson

Lord Bastion Announces
Jackson Marsh

Fleetfoot straightened his wing collar and leant his well-trained ear to the activity beyond his butler’s pantry. Servants moved through billowing kitchen steam in the vaulted chambers, and the day began in butler-acceptable fashion. Satisfied, Fleetfoot turned his scrutiny to the flat-iron and the daily broadsheet.
How many years had he spent with this iron? Too many for any other life, yet not enough.
Fleetfoot had loved his master in silence and servitude through an age of stigma. Lord Bastion, inventor and newspaper owner, was forbidden to express love. He, like Fleetfoot, dared not utter the unspeakable, forced by Victorian convention to deny the unnatural.
Secret life was a trial for both, but His Lordship knew he was loved by the unquestioning thing of black and white that glided through pillared halls. The man who gently closed laboratory doors, bowed his head and obeyed. The same companion now ironed the newspaper to set the ink, so his master’s untouchable fingers remained unsullied.
Licked finger, iron-touch, hiss and press.
Fleetfoot regarded the headline. Lord Bastion Invents… The master was always inventing, the headlines always lauding. Page two. Reheat, lick finger, touch and continue; every page the same.
Lord Bastion Announces… The master announced every day, but no reader knew what because a blank space always followed the caption.
Fleetfoot ironed the empty page, as was his time-worn duty.
Lord Bastion Announces… Something that only appeared when the ink was heated to the exact temperature by the correct iron pressed at the precise pressure by the only man able to read His Lordship’s daily declaration.
Lord Bastion Announces Fleetfoot, too, is loved.
The butler continued to iron his master’s newspaper and, like every day, was careful to catch the teardrops before they smudged the ink.

Meanwhile, In the Real World

Meanwhile, In the Real World

After the release of The Clearwater Inheritance and the sales promotion that went with it, I thought I’d find myself wondering what to do next. Not so! In fact, I have a few things going on at the moment, and I thought this Saturday’s blog would be a good place to tell you about them.

Firstly, I want to thank everyone who took part in the recent book promotion, where we made ‘Deviant Desire’ free for a couple of days. Jenine organised this as a way to publicise the whole series. The idea, of course, was to boost sales of the books that follow in the series, and that’s what seems to be happening. Thank you to everyone who shared the news, wrote a review and made nice comments about the books on Facebook and so on. Keep up the good work.

The Larkspur Series

And on to what comes next… As you may know, I said that ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ marked the end of the Clearwater series, and yet it doesn’t. The characters will live on in The Larkspur Mysteries, and I have already started book number one. It has a working title of ‘Dalston Blaze’ after the main character. In it, we not only meet new characters (three or four so far, and I am on chapter 12 of the first draft), but we also meet up with characters from the previous books. However, you don’t have to have read the Clearwater series to enjoy what’s coming next. In this first book, we’ve already met Silas and James running their detective agency with the help of Mrs Norwood and a new character we met briefly in Clearwater 10, Duncan Fairbairn. Later, our MC, Dalston Blaze, is introduced to Archer down at Larkspur Hall. There, he meets a few other characters from the previous books and on the Larkspur estate, but mainly, he meets others at the new academy, by now (July 1890) being run from the old dower house.

Dalston is 18 and from the workhouse, and I am researching those institutions as much as I can to get some genuine background and flavour. There are flashbacks to life in the workhouse. There are coded symbols and messages involved as the mystery, a villain, of course, and likely as not, there will be a chase before the climax. There is also a friendship/love story, although that’s not the main thrust of the drama. I have already involved steam trains! I don’t know when this book will be ready. I expect it will be at least two months before I start thinking about its cover and publication.

The Haunted Manor

No, that’s not the next book; it’s a model kit I have started building. You might know I like to put together horror figure models, those made by Aurora in the 60s and 70s, and then re-released by Polar Lights and others. So far, I’ve made the Phantom, Dracula, the Witch and the Invisible Man.

I am halfway through the Wolfman but have put him aside because a new one came on the market. It’s not the same line as the others, but I made it when I was about 12 and wanted to have another go. It’s a model with moving parts, originally released by Disney, and it’s called ‘The Haunted Manor, Play it again Tom.’ It’s a man playing the organ, inside of which there’s a lurking mummy. I’ll let you see it when it’s finished.

Summer

That might not be for a while yet, because it’s starting to warm up here in Greece, and the paints dry too fast in their pots. So far on our little Greek island, the summer season has had a slow start. Understandable, of course, and we are hoping for more visitors as travel restrictions are eased. Neil is working at the bar for his two hours per day while I am at home writing, making my model, playing the piano for a friend who likes to sing, or teaching my godson to play. He should be taking his grade one examination at the end of next month, so we’re both nervously excited about that.

When I can, I’ve been taking some walks in the mornings before it gets too hot. I wander up the hill, thinking up the next chapter and occasionally stop for photos. I should do it every day, but I’m still not back in the routine. On the other hand, Neil has been walking and swimming most days, so he’s lost weight put on over the winter, whereas I haven’t. Yet. He’s also going to do an introduction to scuba diving course. Me? Er, no.

And Back to the Books

So, that’s my brief and general news from the desk this week. Next week, there will be something about music, and I am trying to remember which of my books involve music or have something to do with it…

The Clearwater Inheritance, Home From Nowhere, One of a Pair, Unspeakable Acts, The Students of Barrenmoor Ridge (both are musicians), The Blake Inheritance (involves a secret and a church organ), and The Mentor of Lonemarsh House (a music producer and a violinist).

If you’ve not read any of those, you can find all my books listed on my Amazon Author page here.

Have a great week to come, and I’ll be back next week to continue my series of ‘The real history behind the stories’, this time, looking at the music that features in my novels.

The Clearwater Inheritance: Working on the first draft

The Clearwater Inheritance: Working on the first draft

I am currently at 90,000 words of the first draft of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, the Clearwater Mysteries, Book Ten. I thought you might like to know how it was going and what research has gone into what promises to be the longest of the Clearwater novels.

I will have to be vague about some aspects of the story because I don’t want to give away any spoilers. I’m sure you’ll understand. What I can tell you, though, is that this may be the last of the Clearwater mysteries as we know them. I have an idea for a second series of books set in the Clearwater world, but with new characters, and we will see how that develops once ‘Inheritance’ is done and dusted.

Developing the Cast

My desk this morning.

The series started in 1888 in London’s East End during the Ripper’s terror, and what started as a standalone insta-love story soon took on a life of its own. It was to be about two main characters, a street-rat renter, Silas Hawkins, and a young viscount, Clearwater. Halfway through writing ‘Deviant Desire’, however, I started to enjoy the research and characters so much, I decided to write a sequel. Andrej (Fecker’s) character took on more significance, and so did that of Thomas, the footman and life-long friend of Clearwater (and, if we are to be honest, the unrequited love interest).

For book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’, I wanted Thomas to have his own love interest and was already considering the background to book three, part of which I wanted to set around the famous Cleveland Street Scandal. Thus, when book two opens, we meet a messenger, James Wright. Each character has his own flaws and skills, but the characters develop through a series of trials, tribulations, successes and failures, and are still developing. Book seven, ‘Home From Nowhere’, introduced two more main players, Jasper Blackwood and Billy Barnett, bringing the ‘canonical five’ MCs up to seven. With ‘Negative Exposure’, the number of episodes in the series reached nine plus one prequel.

The stage is set for part ten, and it will be something of an epic.

The Clearwater Inheritance

The story starts at the end of book nine, and the challenge is set in the last few lines of ‘Negative Exposure.’
The person who holds our future in the stroke of a pen goes by the name of Cooper Raglan.’

You will find that some storylines and character’s personal journeys in book ten were started as far back as the prequel. For example, ‘Inheritance’ is set in January 1890, but one through-line has its roots in 1881. The on-going story of Archer’s maniac brother, Crispin, comes into play, as does his mother’s death, his ancestry and Larkspur Hall. The ‘crew’, now of seven main players, must employ all their individual skills to survive the story, and you’re going to find some of my favourite devices and settings.

Rasnov Citadel. I visited there in 2013.

There is a mystery, of course, and there is a code to be deciphered. Music again plays a big part in the story, as do the railways, and there is a legal element to be figured out. Although I have part-invented some of the legalities because the laws around inheritance have never been easy to understand or explain, I’ve put that matter in the hands of Sir Easterby Creswell, the barrister, because he has a knack of explaining things in one or two sentences. A castle is also involved, but not just any old castle. I have mixed fact with fiction and have sent two of my characters to Rasnov, which is now in Romania. In 1890, I believe, it was in Transylvania.

What there isn’t in ‘Inheritance’ is a love story, and so, what started out as an MM romance series with ‘Deviant Desire’, has now become a mystery series with one underlying love theme. Not a romance, as such, but something I find romantic. And that is, the love of friends, particularly, male love of male friends, what we might now call bromance. Some of my pairs are still in love with each other and always will be, but the series has always been about (mainly) gay men bonding as men. Being set in 1888 to 1890, it’s set against the background of homosexuality being illegal (and not yet even being called homosexuality). That has always been the canvas on which the Clearwater world is painted. That and the class divide, the upstairs/downstairs world, the Liberals against the Tories, equality versus snobbery, right against wrong, and acceptance.

Researching ‘Inheritance’

That’s some background. Now we’re on a research tour.

I started ‘Inheritance’ with a timeline plan because I knew that there were to be three main storylines, and I needed to keep track of where everyone was at any one time. I have used the technique of telling parts of the story through letters, as characters do in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This is a handy device for a few reasons.

One, letters can impart exposition to the reader without bogging down the action. Two, readers get into the character’s mind. Three, they give the narrative a sense of time and place – of being real. Four, letters can be intercepted or lost, thereby adding to the tension.

However, only part of the ‘Inheritance’ narrative is presented in letters, unlike ‘Dracula’, which is an epistolary novel (written as a series of documents). If you want to read one of my completely epistolary novels, then I point you to ‘The Stoker Connection.’

For realness, I have again used genuine sections from newspapers of the time which I find in the British Newspaper Archives. You need to subscribe to get the full benefit, but it is well worth it. I also find background information such as costs and times of trains, adverts for medicines and other matters, reports of concerts and events, and all these small details make the story more real.

Musical Code & Philip Thicknesse

I swear I did not make up that man’s last name!

Part of the musical code as it stands at the moment.

The outcome of Clearwater’s problem in ‘Inheritance’ relies on the cracking of a code. In this case, a musical code, and so, I needed to turn my mind to how this might be achieved. Did you know, JS Bach, Mozart, Brahms and others employed codes so they could write messages in their music? Bach’s use of code is quite famous and yet simple.

There are seven letters employed in musical notation, A to G, but in Bach’s time, the note B-natural was named H, and B-flat was B. Thus, Bach was able to score B-flat, A, C, and H (what we now call B), and thus make his name, BACH, sound as a melody. Brahms wrote the name of his (assumed) lover in one of his pieces, minus one letter, and there are all kinds of theories around what Mozart may have done in The Magic Flute.

I didn’t want my musical code to be too complicated because although it might be fun for me to be devious, overly-clever codes need explaining to the reader, which bogs down a narrative. While inventing my code, though, I turned up a book from 1772 by a man called Philip Thicknesse. This has the snappy title of “A Treatise On The Art Of Deciphering, And Of Writing In Cypher: With An Harmonic Alphabet”, and you can find it at Forgotten Books and other outlets. I’ll be honest, I haven’t read all of it yet, and it’s not an easy read, what with the letter S printed as an F and all that florid language, but it did set me on the right track for the simple code around which I could base the mystery.

Locations

Another facet of ‘Inheritance’ is the location. Rather, locations, because I have set the story in three. London, Larkspur Hall and Europe.

Austria-Hungary (ethnic, 1890, with red 1914 and blue 1920 borders)

Europe. I mean, how big does an author want their location to be? In my story, two of the characters must travel from Cornwall to what is now Romania and back, and in 1890 the way to go was by train. Actually, by several trains and a boat, plus a carriage or two, and their final destination is, of course, a remote one.

For train information, I again turned to my expert friend, Andy Ward, and asked him how long such a journey would take. In a nutshell, the answer was, It will take 107 hours to get from Bodmin to Brasov/Brasso, including a 15 hour overnight stop in Vienna. My characters then only have to travel ten miles to Rasnov castle. Coming back, it’s quicker because there are only 5 hours in Vienna, but the route is similar, total time 96 hours.

In the story, my characters stop off in Paris for a night. They are invited to the Hofburg, the Emperor’s palace in Vienna where they meet Brahms, sleep the night at Budapest railway station, put up at a guest house in Brasov, and travel through the worsening influenza pandemic which was still running riot across Europe in 1890. Oh, and it’s January, remember, so it’s cold and not at all comfortable.

London. Meanwhile, two other main characters are dispatched to London to search the Clearwater archives kept by the solicitor, Mr Marks. While there, they must interview the barrister Creswell to see if there are any archaic inheritance laws that may stop the villain from doing what he intends to do. This sees one of our MCs accidentally appearing in the High Court (because I do like a courtroom scene), and brings in a couple of other cameo characters we’ve met in previous novels.

Larkspur Hall

Larkspur Hall. The viscount’s country home is a large, rambling pile of mixed architecture and history which deserves a novel all of its own. In ‘Inheritance’, we get to meet some new staff and find out more about the Hall, which we’ve only been to briefly in ‘Fallen Splendour’ and for longer in ‘Bitter Bloodline.’ I have not yet mapped the Hall, although its basic plan is in my head, but I have used various sources for inspiration, mainly ‘The Victorian Country House’ by Mark Girouard, which has very informative text and plenty of excellent images and plans.

I have my A4 notepad beside me as I write this blog, and in it, I have several pages of notes and reminders I have made along the way. This is without the Word documents and other electronic things I have in my ‘Book 10′ folder. They include Thicknesses’ book in Pdf, maps of Eastern Europe from the late 19th century, and another book which was exactly what I needed, ‘Travels in Various Parts of Europe During the Years 1888, 1889 and 1890’ by Gilbert H. W. Harrison. (Google books.) He gives accounts of travelling from London to Paris, to Vienna to Budapest, and that’s the route I have used for my two characters, who had their journey set up by Thomas Cook and Son of the Strand. You see? I like to keep it real.

Meanwhile, my notes. Here is a snippet of what goes through my mind when I am creating one of my mysteries, as found in my scrawly handwriting.

Billy sniffing. Flu later?
Silas does this without Archer knowing. (Does what? I have no idea, I can’t remember now.)
Code? 12 major, 12 minor = 24 x two volumes = 48. 1 x P + 1 x F = 2 x 12 = 24.
1859 Archer, 1829 dad, 1800 grandfather.
Count Movileşti (real family, Moldavian).
The Hall 14th century, tower, main hall. Abbey. Celtic monks, St Crannock pre 1066.
James’ birthday, Jan 10th, he’s just turned 27.
Freiherr (baron) Kubinsky.
A B C D E F G

And then, in a box of its own: Remove Duncan from story and use later.

Onwards to the future…

Duncan is a day-player we meet briefly in book nine, and I wrote him in intending to use him in book ten. The trouble is, he doesn’t now fit, and so, I have decided I may bring him into whatever comes after book ten.

That may well be ‘The Larkspur Academy Mysteries’, but on that subject, I shall remain quiet for now, because, as I finish, I have two characters in a blizzard in Transylvania, three suffering in the Clearwater Archive in Chancery Lane, a sick housekeeper, a broken telegraph system, huge news from abroad that’s about to cause the final countdown to kick in, and somebody vital has started to feel very unwell.

My characters are waiting for me. I have left them in limbo and must go and see to them.

Jasper Blackwood at the piano.

Oh, before I do. One last thing. As ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ includes the cracking of a musical code, the character of Jasper Blackwood plays a large part. Jasper, or Pianino as Fecker calls him, is 18 and a musical genius. This coming Wednesday, 31st March, you can find an interview with him over at the MM Fiction Café.

Negative Exposure & A Valentine’s Peek

Negative Exposure & a Valentine’s Peek

Hi, welcome to my Saturday blog. Today, I want to tell you more about ‘Negative Exposure, the Clearwater Mysteries, Book Nine’, and give you a heads-up about something special for Valentine’s Day.

Negative Exposure

This is the ninth book in the ongoing series, the Clearwater Mysteries (though the 10th book in the Clearwater world, as there is a non-mystery prequel, ‘Banyak & Fecks’).

If you’ve been following the series, you’ll know that after the mayhem of books one to six, there was a break in pace for two slower, calmer mysteries, ‘Home from Nowhere’ and ‘One of a Pair’.

Inspiration for part of the cover

Well, with ‘Negative Exposure’, the Clearwater crew is back to detecting, unlocking clues, racing against time and battling things out on stormy clifftops. While I’m about it, I’m also drawing on information and events from the prequel and other novels through the series, and bringing in the real flu pandemic of 1889. (It was around for longer, but this story takes place in December 1889.)

Negative Exposure is also setting things up for Clearwater 10, which will be the prelude to a change in direction, but not an end to the Clearwater world. I’m still thinking about this idea, so my plans might change.

Negative Exposure starts at the end of the 2nd Clearwater Gala, this time, held at the Lyceum Theatre, London as discussed by Clearwater, Henry Irving and Bram Stoker in ‘Artful Deception.’ Everything’s going well until, the next day, two pieces of potentially devastating news arrive at Clearwater House. One, brought by Dr Markland, involves the spreading pandemic, the other is found by Harvey in Silas’ coat pocket, and threatens to blow Silas and Archer’s world apart.

What is it?

These days, we would probably call it pornography, back then the word, although in existence, wasn’t widely used, so I’ve gone with ‘erotica’ and other Victorian euphemisms. James leads the investigation, with Silas and Fecker also involved, and it takes them back into Silas’ past and an event from ‘Banyak & Fecks’, on to the Cheap Street Mission, and later, to the wilds of the west coast of Scotland. During all of this, there is a growing sexual frisson between two major characters who should not be attracted to each other. There is no great love story, other than my favourite theme of friendship and how far we would go for our friends.

I’ve decided to release a sample of the story in a special newsletter on Valentines Day, not because the story is about love, but as a gift for readers.

Valentine’s Day

On this day, I will be sending out a newsletter that will include part of a chapter from ‘Negative Exposure.’ I have yet to decide precisely what chapter and what part as it’s one of those stories that follows on scene by scene, and doesn’t have a section that can easily be taken out and posted as a standalone piece, but… well, we’ll see.

If you’ve not signed up to the newsletter, you can do it here with a couple of clicks.

I usually only send one per month, and I don’t bombard people with other writers’ books’ sales opportunities or news. It’s purely informal and personal, with news of my work and what I have been doing here on our quiet Greek island.

Back to Editing

While writing this post, I am in the middle of editing ‘Negative Exposure.’ I am currently on chapter 12 of 24, going through each page line by line, removing repeats and shaving off too many passive verbs and dangling modifiers, and all that grammar jazz. I’m also ensuring that clues tie-up, backstories are consistent, and words are spelt correctly. The manuscript is booked in with my proof-reader for February 15th, which means I am aiming for a release date in the week of February 22nd. Not long to wait now. It also means I have a tight deadline and as each chapter takes me roughly two hours to line-edit, I can’t hang around, and I need to get back to work.

First, though, I am finishing my cup of tea before going for a short walk around our village for the exercise. It gets in the way of my writing but must be done, and while I am doing it, I can put together an outline for Book 10, which has a working title of ‘The Final Prelude’, but that’s very much at the in-the-imagination draft stage right now.

One last thing, an appeal. If you’ve read any of my books and liked them, it would be helpful if you could give them a good rate on Amazon, or even a short review, and share news of the books around your social media. I know many of you do, but new readers might not know how much those small actions can help a writer develop his audience.

Thank you, and look out for the Valentine’s Day newsletter and your exclusive peek at ‘Negative Exposure’, the Clearwater Mysteries, Book Nine.

Jack

Editing the next Clearwater Story

Work in progress: Banyak & Fecks

I’m working on ‘Banyak & Fecks’, the prequel to the first Clearwater mystery. This isn’t a mystery, however, and it’s not MM Romance, though it is romantic. It’s a story about the friendship between a Ukrainian refugee and the son of an Irish immigrant who meet in London in 1884.

The story starts in 1881 when Andrej (Fecks) leaves his homeland, and the first five chapters are dedicated to him and his journey across Europe. The next five chapters start in 1884 when Silas (Banyak) leaves his home in Westerpool to travel to London looking for work so he can send money home to his twin sisters.

Deviant Desire‘, the first book in the mystery series, begins in 1888, when they have known each other for four years. The second half of ‘Banyak & Fecks’ is about those four years, what happened to them as rent boys, and how their friendship developed. The story takes us up to the day before the first scene of ‘Deviant Desire’ during the time of the Ripper murders.

Here’s the book title taken from the first draft of the cover. There will be a full cover reveal in a couple of weeks.

That’s a quick summary of the story. What I wanted to talk about today is how I am working on it. I finished draft one a couple of weeks ago and am now editing draft two. It’s a slow process.

Editing

Everyone should have an editor, but not everyone likes to have one. Why? Well, because lots of people don’t like someone else telling them what they should do with their creation. The author knows best, right?

Wrong.

I learnt this years ago when writing musicals. I’d write the book (dialogue/story) and the songs, and be happy with what I’d created. There’s no point writing a musical that no-one will see, so I then raised funds to produce them. For the first one, I hired a director who turned out to be useless; all she did was tell the actors where to stand. I watched rehearsals in horror and realised that, although it needed improving, the director didn’t want to interfere with what I’d written. I got rid of her and took over. I collaborated with the cast on character, dialogue and lyrics, and worked with the musical director on the score, cutting, improving, moving things around and so on. I even changed a scene because the set designer had a better idea than mine. The show was better for it, and when I revived it a few years later, I changed, edited and improved it again.

The point here being, collaboration can be a good thing, and usually is.

‘But my creation is perfect!’ cries the newbie author in the manner of Victor Frankenstein exclaiming, ‘It’s alive!’ Yes, well, we all know how that turned out.

Some people can solo-edit, and that’s up to them. Others can afford a professional editor, and that’s wonderful as long as it’s someone you trust. You should always stay true to your vision but remain open to suggestions, and learn to swallow your pride. Your work will benefit from the discussion if not the input, because writing is a solitary pastime.

Back to Banyak & Fecks

Having finished the first draft of ‘Banyak & Fecks’, I sent the first chapter to a trusted friend of mine who had proofread some of my James Collins’ novels, and with whom I had collaborated on a film script or two. He’s what I’d call a ‘word technician.’ An Oxford classicist, ex-newspaper editor, BBC journalist of the past, and also a long-standing, highly pedantic friend, so, I trust him.

I sent him the chapter knowing it was good and made perfect sense to me, and he came back with It certainly has lots of promise but definitely needs a lot of re-working and re-writing, as you probably realise. As a writer, you think, ‘Really? Not sure I agree with you there…’ Then he comes up with notes such as over-dense, slightly confusing, and quite hard to get through… confused over timelines… descriptions were good but lacking in emotion… quite a lot of passive voice… I was also a bit confused about… make that moral response more ambiguous and flexible, otherwise you’re creating a stereotype…

And so on. There were many positive comments too, I should add.

I wasn’t disheartened. I took the comments on board and thought about them as I began editing.

Editing alone

Now then let me pull out two phrases from what I’ve just written, afford a professional editor, and quite a lot of passive voice.

Not everyone can afford to pay a freelance editor, myself included. So what do you do?

I use two plug-in programmes. Grammarly, and Pro Writing Aid (PWA). Both are good at what they do, they have different ways of working, you can customise them, and I use them for two kinds of writing. Grammarly, I use for my freelance review and copywriting and find it’s good at picking up on punctuation and typos. Here it is in use on what I am writing right now.

As you can see, I’ve not gone back over this post yet, as I’ve not reached the end.

I don’t use Grammarly as an editor I use it more as a proof reader. (When I am happy with a drafted novel, I pay for a professional proof reader.)

Pro Writing Aid, however, I do use as an editor because it covers all manner of technical things, such as passive voice, adverb use, repetitions, sentence length, readability and clichés. It also compares the writing to published standards, giving notes such as, ‘68% of sentences start with a subject (compared to 72% in published writing).’ It’s just said that about what I’ve written for this post so far. When you visit their website, you can find out how they compare to published writing, and find explanations for passive voice, ‘sticky sentences’ and the rest.

I can tell you, examining every sentence with this writing tool is a slow business, because it’s so in-depth, and it’s tempting to skip some features because there are so many. I try not to. Here’s a screenshot of PWA at work on my sentence length.

You also have to be aware of over-editing. When I’m using PWA, I start with the Grammar & Style feature which picks up on grammar, spelling, readability, passive verbs and repeated sentence starts. Later, I check overused words, then repeats in close proximity, sentence length and… You know, it goes on and on. The thing is, the programme might suggest cutting this and changing that, and if you cut things around too much, you can lose your voice, your style. So, such programmes should be used judiciously, and you should approach your editing as an individual. If everyone did as these plug-ins suggest, all our writing would come out the same.

And back to the editor

Which is why, whenever possible, writers should work with a living, breathing editor. Together, they can improve the work technically while keeping an eye on the wider picture. What these programmes can’t do is examine a whole manuscript and check things like character arc, pace, repetition of theme or descriptions, and obvious errors.

I’m thinking there of a paragraph in ‘Deviant Desire’ that originally said Silas and Andrej met at night-time, and then, in the next, describes the meeting as being in the afternoon. I mean, that contradictory information was only two sentences apart! I only noticed when I reread DD some months after publication, but I changed the manuscript and reloaded it to Amazon. The joy of self-publishing! Fixing errors after publication is easy, but then, if I’d had an editor, there wouldn’t be errors to fix.

And finally


‘Finally’, is an adverb, and adverbs are to be avoided in creative writing because they tell not show. (There are 29 of them in this post so far. PWA is not happy.) Anyway… Adverbs are to be avoided. (Passive verb: to be avoided. Better is, ‘you should avoid adverbs.’) You should do this for your whole manuscript. (Style improvement: ‘a complete manuscript.’) As I was trying to say… Adverbs are to be avoided… (Repetition: Frequent 5 word phrases, ‘adverbs are to be avoided’, try these ten suggestions…)

That’s the kind of thing my PWA programme comes up with, and believe it or not, I don’t mind.

What’s come out of all this ‘editing with a robot’ experience?

  • They can be useful for those who can’t afford a professional editor.
  • You learn a great deal about grammar and spelling. (Both programmes can be customised to English-English and the America equivalent.)
  • You don’t always have to agree with what they say.
  • It’s easy to overwork your MS, so be careful.
  • You still need to see the story from afar for the wider picture.
  • It takes a hell of a long time to do a line edit.

And there I will leave you and return to chapter 18 of ‘Banyak & Fecks.’ Another three hours lie ahead (or is it lay ahead?), and that’s just on the one chapter. The Clearwater prequel should be ready before Christmas. Once I, Grammarly and PWA have done with it, it still needs to go through my proof reader, and if you are looking for one, I can recommend Anne Attwood at https://www.facebook.com/AnnieA2017/ who also offers editing services.

Jackson Marsh on Facebook
Grammarly
Pro Writing Aid

Slumming it in Victorian London

Slumming it in Victorian London

While researching for my Clearwater Series, and ‘Banyak & Fecks’ in particular, I have been investigating the slums of Victorian London. Thanks to books like Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London by Seth Koven, and websites such as www.victorianlondon.org/ and The British Newspaper Archive, I’ve learnt a little about slums and slumming.

You often hear the phrase ‘slumming it’, you may even use it, and you know what it means today. But did you know when and how it originated? (I expect you do, but just in case, I’ll explain anyway.)

Origins of word usage, ‘slumming’

I searched through the newspaper archive looking specifically for the word ‘Slumming’ and found a couple of instances from the 18th century. They interested me because I thought the word didn’t come into use until the mid-19th century. They turned out to be spelling errors and were meant to read ‘summing’, so that made sense. Between 1800 and 1849 there were 77 instances of usage in the newspapers kept in the archive, and early instances were, again, typos, ‘summoning’, ‘slumping’ and similar instead of slumming.

In the second half of the 19th century, however, instances rose sharply to 3,741, and that figure was surpassed in the first half of the 20th century, at 3,799. I wasn’t about to check every single instance, so refined my search to the 1800s, as I am currently writing in that decade, and found most usages came in 1884, January, to be precise. Interestingly, that’s the year when, in my current work in progress, Banyak and Fecker meet.

So, from that basic hunt, I concluded ‘slumming’ as a word began in the mid-19th century, as I thought. But what was it?

This excerpt from The St James Gazette explains it neatly.

[Incurably idle, defiantly vicious, delicious horror, valuable acquisition at dinner parties… just about sums it up!]

Simply put, it became fashionable for the well to do, the West-enders, or middle and upper classes, to take themselves off to the slums of Chelsea, Whitechapel and other places, to see ‘how the other half lived.’ Abhorrent to us these days, perhaps, and the equivalent of rubbernecking a road accident, but that was how things were. Parties would be organised, some daring the streets and slums on their own, others finding a local guide, and not all of them dropping shillings to those whose homes they nosed around in.

Examples from newspapers and publications

There are plenty of mentions in publications of the day, and I picked out just a couple of examples for you.

“Now, then, who will go slumming down Chelsea way? It is apparently as nasty, and is far more convenient for West-enders to get at, by road, rail, and river, than Whitechapel.”

[The Sportsman, July 16th 1887]

Slumming appeared in literature both serious and comedic, such as I found in  ‘A working class tragedy’ by H. J. Bramsbury (chapter XXXVII), which appeared in a publication called Justice, on February 16th 1889.

Click for full size

You might be able to see from the screenshot I took, how a visitor asks if friends would like to go slumming, and when asked what that is, explains: ‘It is quite the thing now. How the poor live is quite the newest idea. You go around and visit the slums as they are called.’

When asked what good it does, the visitor replies, ‘Well, I think it makes one feel thankful that one doesn’t belong to the lower orders.’

‘But what good do the poor derive from it?’

‘Oh, I don’t know that it does them much good except you give them a shilling occasionally… It’s quite astonishing what the interesting inhabitants are willing to do for a shilling.’

We might gape at such an attitude these days, and I’m hoping the story was satirical, but it highlighted not only what slumming was, but the upper classes’ attitude towards it as it because a popular fad. What also caught my attention was the institution that the poor would do ‘astonishing’ things for twelve pence. (Banyak and Fecks charge more or less than a shilling depending on what ‘service’ they provide.)

Slumming even turns up in popular songs of the time, as this verse from ‘The Barrel Organ’ attests.

Since high society first found a pleasure new in “slumming,”
And visiting an East-end court was deemed a task becoming
We’ve oft been told how sad a state the “masses” now are in
And what foul wretchedness is bred of ignorance and gin.

[Quoted in ‘Truth’, February 23rd 1888]

Click for full size

A charitable reason.

Some slummers, you might call them, went to the East End and elsewhere for charitable reasons, to see conditions for themselves, and as slumming became more popular, so more people learnt of the conditions in which the poor lived. You can find a page at Victorian London here which gives an excerpt from Dottings of a Dosser, by Howard J. Goldsmid, 1886, which includes, “Slumming” became a popular amusement; and with this amusement, and the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the matter, the public conscience was salved.

Here is an excerpt from my work in progress, ‘Banyak & Fecks’ (first draft).

On dry nights, the visitors would meet at the stone arch, warm in winter furs but cold with apprehension, speaking in hushed voices and telling each other what they expected to see.
Some came to see what they could do.
‘I believe there is talk of something called the Jew’s Temporary Shelter’, one said. ‘I may contribute to the fund.’
‘I was at Keeble,’ said another. ‘We were instrumental in establishing the Oxford House Settlement. It’s in Bethnal Green.’
It was, and it offered a club for boys, a gymnasium and a library. It hosted concerts for the poor and brought them together beneath the word of God at Bible readings while being occupied by those from the upper-classes keen to experience life side-by-side with the destitute.
‘We must all play our part,’ one woman instructed. ‘It is our Christian duty to help the unfortunates and to understand what they endure. Which reminds me, Marjory, are you invited to Sir Malcolm’s ball?’

So, slumming was a popular pastime in the years my current work in progress is set, and I have used it as a plot device. Now then, if you promise me you understand this is only the first draft, and you will be kind, let me share a little of it with you.

It’s late in 1884, Silas (Banyak) has met Andrej (Fecks), but has not yet found the courage to sell his body on the street. Instead, using his wits, he has noticed slumming tours and decides to set himself up as a guide. As usual, I have taken historical facts and real locations and mixed them with fiction. Silas is taking a group of slummers into Greychurch…

‘First of all, gents, you’ve got your loafers, them as who’s the drones in this working-class hive,’ he would say as he led his party along Cheap Street. ‘Me old dad were what you’d call a loafer, ’cos he’d carry bread baskets from Simpson’s bakery over at Five Dials right across to Old Nichol Street through there, and he’d do it ten times each morning before the sun came up, rain or shine.’ A complete lie, but no-one knew.
He’d done his research and knew his facts, however, and there was enough truth in his speech to satisfy the cynical and put down those who thought they knew more than he did.
‘The Old Nichol,’ he would say, quoting from a publication he’d found, ‘is the place between Shoreditch High Street and Bethnal Green. It’s got twenty streets in it with seven hundred and thirty knackered houses where something like six thousand people live. I don’t want to lose any of you decent folks in there, so we ain’t going in ’cos it’s the worst slum in the East End, and there’s more interesting ones for you gents in Greychurch.’

[If you’ve not read The Clearwater Mysteries, Greychurch is Whitechapel. Silas’ facts about the Old Nichol are true.]

He’d stop outside the doss house to give the lad across the street time to count the number and collect just enough meat pies for his tray. Martin Tucker was somehow related Aunt Molly, and by the time Silas’ party emerged from the doss house, would be on the steps with his angelic face cleaned, his smile broad and inviting, but barefoot in his ragged clothes. On some nights, after selling his pies and slipping Silas a percentage, he’d make eyes at the men in the group, and it wasn’t uncommon for a gentleman to hang back, break from the pack and follow the lad into the next door yard. Martin was thirteen.
‘Not all the men what stays here’s a loafer, but the place is men only.’ Silas continued his talk in the lobby, giving Cormack time to check the room they were going to see, hide any women under the beds and lock the children in a cupboard in case any of the tourists were officials in disguise. ‘Most of the men’s seen better days. They got respectable artisans what the waves of trade-depression has overtaken and submerged.’ Some of his patter was lifted directly from the St. James Gazette. ‘They got clerks elbowed out of a berth by the competition of smart young Germans. There’s men what were once shopkeepers who got ruined ’cos the working-folk couldn’t afford their business. Even professional men like solicitors and surgeons can be found among the motley crowd in a kip-‘ouse kitchen. Right, let’s see a room. You might want to tuck your trousers into your boots, Sir.’
‘Oh? Why.’
‘Nippers, mate. Fleas.’
Some of his paying customers asked him personal questions, such as where he lived, and he was able to reply honestly.
‘I got a little gaff with me best mate, Miss, down Limedock. Andrej his name is.’ The honesty didn’t last for long. ‘Comes from Russian royalty, but got kicked out of his country ’cos he married the wrong girl. They killed his kids and his wife, stole his land, so he had to come here. Now works shifting sugar sacks and rocks down at the Lower Pool.’
‘How tragic. But he is an immigrant?’
‘That’s right, Madam.’
‘And you share lodgings with such a man? Why?’
Sometimes Silas had to fight the temptation to punch his guests. ‘Look at it his way, love. Who’d you rather share a bed with, rats or royalty? Watch where you tread here, someone’s had too much gin and left their lunch on the step. Right, this is where I used to sleep…’

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Finally

The racism suggested in that scene was prevalent, whipped up by newspapers much as it is today, and took a form of classism. The poor of the East End, the immigrants and refugees, were dragging the city down, taking jobs and spreading disease, so said the newspapers then as some, while slumming it in a different fashion, do today, but that’s a subject for another day.

Banyak & Fecks’ is still being written. It is a prequel to The Clearwater Mysteries and a standalone novel, not a mystery, and not MM Romance. Instead, it is a story of friendship and survival. I aim to have it ready later in 2020.