A Year as an Indie Author: 2021

A Year as an Indie Author: 2021

Happy New Year’s Eve! Tomorrow, I have another blog post for you, one where some of my author friends call in to give us their perspectives of 2021, so watch out for that. Today, I want to give you a roundup of what 2021 was like for me, and here it is…

This time last year, I started the New Year with a blog post: New Year, New Story. The opening paragraph read: Hello and welcome to 2021. It is January 1st as I write this. I have been up since 5.30, we had a power cut at 6.00, and just after the lights went off, the thunder started. It’s now 7.30, the power is on, the rain is hammering on the roof, and I couldn’t be happier.

Well, as I write this post, it’s December 31st 2021, I have again been up since 5.30 (ish), there has been no power cut, but we did have thunder overnight, and it’s been raining for four days. It’s currently 7.00, and I am still happy despite a tough year. Why? Read on to find out.

Winter to Spring
Negative Exposure. Released 25th February 2021

The cover that Facebook banned, lol!

As I entered 2021, I was 50,000 words into Clearwater Nine, ‘Something Exposure’. I had released ‘Banyak & Fecks’ on 1st December 2020, and that was selling a few copies. ‘Banyak & Fecks’ remains my personal favourite, the one I am most proud of, because I set out to show myself I could write a compelling story that had nothing to do with mystery, clues, chases, train crashes and all that thriller jazz, and I believe, I achieved that.

Negative Exposure (as it finally became) was a return to the classic Clearwater style and grew out of things that happened in the non-mystery prequel, ‘Banyak & Fecks.’ I felt that I was coming to the end of the Clearwater run, but didn’t want the series to end, and was looking for a way to extend it, modify it, but still keep my core characters who are so popular with readers. ‘The Larkspur Mysteries’ was forming in my imagination, but before that, the Clearwater series needed an end piece.

At home, in a lockdown, 2021 began quietly with online quiz groups, plenty of films on Netflix, wine, and my usual six hours a day writing schedule. Our Greek island, Symi, is a quiet place in the darker winter months, and always has been. There is not a lot open, and we stay home, with our outings being countryside and hill walks now and then, and dinners with our bestie and godchildren once or twice a week. This was not possible in lockdown (the walks were), but I continued to teach Harry the piano via video twice per week. How on earth teachers manage whole days of teaching via video is beyond me; half an hour at a time was enough for me.

As restrictions lifted, so the winter turned to spring, and then to summer and the return of tourists. During all this time, I was writing the next and final Clearwater, and that was to turn out to be the longest novel in the series. (And the most fascinating the most epic and the one that brought several strains from Banyak & Fecks, and previous stories, back into one thread.)

Summer
The Clearwater Inheritance. Released 10th June 2021

My characters’ journey on the Orient Express in ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’

Summer, for me, consisted of freelance writing work, which, then, was still coming in, seeing friends at the bar where Neil works in the afternoon, and plotting the next series. With temperatures reaching the mid to high 40s for some time, it wasn’t always easy to concentrate on plots and characters, but I sweated onwards. In winter, the temperature in my office, my ‘workhouse’ as I call it, gets down to four or five degrees, and I work in fingerless gloves, three jumpers and a hat. In summer, I am virtually naked (eek!), the windows are open, and the fans are blasting. We jump between weather extremes in Greece.

The Clearwater Inheritance’, the only book in the series not to feature a person on the cover, came out in June. This publication included a map, and masses of research, a longer proofing and preparation time, and while all that was happening, I had already started on the first in the follow-on series, Guardians of the Poor.

Guardians of the Poor. Released 22nd August 2021

Joe Tanner as drawn by Dalston Blaze and inspired by Luke Adams

I have a folder in my system where I keep the ‘bottom drawer.’ This is a dumping ground for ideas, chapters and even halves of novels that started well but didn’t fly. One of these old files was a chapter, or rather, a study that’s the length of a chapter, and it concerned a quirky character being tricked into being rescued in Leather Lane market, London, in the late 1880s. While I was writing it, a name popped into my head, and I could not remove either the name or the character from my mind. Barbary Fleet was born.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I was sure the series shouldn’t start with the founding of the Larkspur Academy and the finding of Barbary Fleet to run it, it should start with the place already up and running. I would introduce a new character or two and the reader would follow his adventure into and through the academy, so we could discover it along with the character. This was handy because, at this point, I had little idea what this academy was. I knew it wasn’t a school or a college, but a place where (gay) young men could be rescued to. Therefore, the characters needed to be in a dire situation and needed to be saved from it by existing Clearwater characters, and then… Well, then I would see what the characters did, and we’d take it from there.

This is actually my husband, Neil, but the image inspired me to write Barbary Fleet.

And so, Guardians of the Poor starts with a man in the dock accused of a crime he didn’t commit, but telling everyone he did commit it because he wants to go to prison. Intriguing. Why? I thought, and the answer was because it was the only way to save his life. That, I reckoned, was an excellent start to a new series, and away I went…

Then I watched ‘The Amazing Race’ and was knocked sideways by deaf contestant Luke Adams, and my character of Joe Tanner was born.

Larkspur Academy came to life. I learnt some basic British Sign Language, tourists came and went, summer came and went, and as we settled into autumn, I was at work on Larkspur Two.

Autumn and the start of another winter.
Keepers of the Past. Released 4th November 2021

Standing stones, ritual murders and the pain of a new relationship seen through the eyes of Joe Tanner

Temperatures cooled, we have a wonderfully mild end of summer and start of autumn. The new series had started well with good sales of ‘Guardians’, and Neil and I still had some freelance writing work to provide us with spending money. Then…

Sadly, a job I’d had for 16 years, and one he’d had for two, ended because of the company changing management and deciding to do their writing work in-house. I had/have a couple of other clients who I continue to work with, but that’s never been ‘core cash,’ and even they are slowing down their workloads because of Covid.

So, as we entered winter, and now as we steam on into the new year, I am beavering at the keyboard to write my novels while also beavering to find more freelance writing work. I have set up a service on PeoplePerHour where I offer writing and editing services should anyone want help or mentoring with their writing.

Meanwhile, suddenly poor as church mice (thank heavens I organised myself a semi-decent private pension when I was young; it now covers most of our bills), I began work on the next Larkspur. I’ve been charting this in a Work In Progress blog which you can catch here every Wednesday, and we’re currently up to week nine, so, ‘Agents of the Truth’ has, so far, taken me nine weeks to write 110,000 of a first draft, and I am currently 60% through my first story edit. After that, I shall go through each chapter with my checklist:

What is the point of this chapter (and have I made it)?
Grammar
Spelling (as best as my word blindness allows)
Style improvement
Make it better or cut it out… And so on

While all this has been going on, I was thrilled to receive 10 nominations in the Goodreads MM Romance awards, pick up new followers to my Jackson Marsh Facebook page and to this blog, to sell more books, and, thanks to my PA, Jenine, have my best sales year ever. Let’s hope that continues into 2022, which, for me, will start like this:

New Year’s Eve 2021. Neil is cooking roast dinner for the logical family (Jenine and our two godsons), and we’re in for an evening of food, films and fun.

2022 will start with us all going to a large house overlooking the sea, cooking together and continuing the feasting rituals before wadding back up to 400 steps to home.

χρόνια πολλά!

And onwards… Into ‘Agents of the Truth’ and beyond. This, the third Larkspur, brings the development of my two main characters to a logical conclusion and sets me free to invent new plots and people for book four. What that will be is anyone’s guess, but that’s the best part about a new year’s beginnings. As I wrote this time last year, “there is a whole year ahead in which to achieve some wonderful things.”

May you achieve wonderful things of your own. I certainly intend to.

Happy New Year to everyone. Thank you for reading and your support, and here’s a χρόνια πολλά! to everyone.

A New Release

A New Release, a New Blog Day, a New Enterprise and a New Season. It’s all go in the house of Jackson Marsh.

Keepers of the Past: The Larkspur Mysteries Book Two

Yesterday, I uploaded the files for ‘Keepers of the Past’ to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. About two hours later, I received an email saying the Kindle version was live. I’ve never known it to be so fast. I also sent the files for the paperback version, but they always take longer to go through the process.

‘Keepers of the Past’ is available in several countries and here are the links for the main three.

USA
UK
Canada

Amazon also publishes them in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Australia and India. I’ve never known why they aren’t available in other countries like Denmark, but it seems there’s nothing I can do about that.

Click the link, or go to your Amazon outlet and run a search, and you will find it. Alternatively, it will be on my Amazon author page any moment now.

A New Wednesday blog

Meanwhile, back at the desk… I have started a WIP blog. That’s a Work In Progress update and you’ll receive one here every Wednesday unless there’s some unforeseen circumstance. You can read the first of these posts here, or look at the recent posts list on the right of this page. That first post gives you all the details.

Fiverr

I’ve just signed up with Fiverr.com to try to raise some extra cash. I’m starting with MM romance outline appraisals and story development for new authors, in case you know anyone who might want advice. You can find my first gig here:

I have used both Fiverr and PeoplePerHour to find artists. Andjela, who designs my covers, came from PPH, and ‘Dazzling’, who creates the pencil sketches and drawings, came via Fiverr. Although I’ve experienced both sites as a buyer, this is the first time I am trying the service as a seller, and all I really have to sell is my expertise in creating stories. If anything comes from it, the money will be very useful because my copywriting work has taken something of a slump of late, through no fault of my own, I should add. One of my major clients, a large company in the USA, has restructured and put the work in-house, so I must hunt around for more, hence the Fiverr thing and maybe next week, I’ll apply to PPH as well. Tha doume, as they say in Greece, we will see.

On Symi

View from the balcony yesterday.

And talking of Greece… The summer season has come to an end here on Symi, but no-one’s told the weather. We’re still enjoying 20 degrees and clear skies, save for a blip the other day when we had some much-needed rain. It doesn’t rain much here between May and November, but we can expect storms, high winds, cold temperatures and everything else that comes with the winter season. Those days are tempered by good-weather days when you can sunbathe one minute, and put on your winter coat the next. So far, we’ve not had to use our heaters, though the duvet is back on the bed, and we’ve still got the windows open during the day.

Neil is still working at the bar in the afternoons and will be there until after the island’s famous Panormitis Festival, which is happening at the other end of the island this weekend. Pilgrims from around the world, but mainly Greece, come to visit. There are religious services, a market, feasting and dining. We’ve been several times over the 19 years we’ve lived here, and one year, we walked there (it’s 14 km, they say, but up and down zigzagging roads and hills), and boy were we glad of the bus home afterwards.

Also, with winter comes time to do those niggling odd jobs. Neil is currently working through his cornucopia of herbs and spices, Indian cookery books and equipment, giving the kitchen a makeover. When he finishes work, we intend to redecorate the inside of the house, and while all that’s going on, I have a list of things to work through. I’ve already painted the flat roof to weatherproof it, so we don’t get rain in the bathroom. That done, my next task is to fix the porch roof, change the waste pipes on the laundry sink, clear out the spare wardrobe, and maybe, one day… just maybe, we will sort out the mousandra. A mousandra is a sleeping area, traditionally above a kitchen for warmth. Our is like a spare room with a low, sloping ceiling above the bedroom, and it’s full of things that ‘might be useful one day’, and things we don’t know where else to put, plus items we don’t use, but you never know…

While all that is going on, I need to get into a new routine. I’ve been lazy of late, and I must get out early in the morning and do my three-mile walk. It’s not only for the exercise, but it’s also thinking time, plotting and planning as I slug one and a half miles uphill. The walk down is always a relief. So, my routine from next week, weather permitting, will be roughly: wake at 4.00 as I do, knock off the little copywriting work I have at the moment, go up the hill, come back and set to the next chapter of the next book. Lunch break always involves an episode of MasterChef or similar, and then, rather than a summer siesta, I’ll be back at the desk in the afternoon until it’s time for Netflix.

Now, it’s time for me to go and plough on with Larkspur Three. Don’t forget to check in on Wednesdays and Saturdays from now on, and remember to share Facebook posts, reviews and all that jazz, because every little helps.

Keepers of the Past, the Larkspur Mysteries, book three.

Halloween Special: Tales of Mystery and Suspense

Halloween Special: Tales of Mystery and Suspense

As it’s Halloween this weekend, I wanted to share some of my James novels with you. Before I started on the Jackson Marsh affair, I wrote 14 books under my real name. They are a mix of biography (moving to and living on a Greek island), comedies, thrillers and horror stories, and it’s the creepy and horror ones I wanted to mention today. Later in this post there is news on the next Larkspur mystery, ‘Keepers of the Past’, and you will be the first to see the cover. I know you want to skip straight to it now to see what wonderful work Andjela has done, but you might want to pick up something dark and creepy for the weekend on your way.

The Judas Inheritance

This book came about because I was asked to write and help produce a film. The story was converted into a film later, and the film was made here on Symi, where the story is set. Sadly, the film was never released, apart from at film festivals (where it won some awards), and it was renamed to ‘The Thirteenth.’

The book holds the original story and is written in two voices. Here’s the blurb:

An ancient curse? Desperation in the economic crisis? What is causing the suicides of so many adults and children on this small Greek island?

When Chris Trelawney arrives on the island to take away his late father’s belongings, he finds that he has been left little more than a mystery. Was his father mad at the time of his death, or did he actually believe that he had awakened a powerful evil? An ancient evil that now stalks the islanders, growing stronger by the day. A curse that will cause the death of everyone around Chris unless he allows himself to believe that such things exist.

But when he discovers the truth, Chris realises that death is the easy option.

Reminiscent of Stephen King at his best with a final twist which I did not see coming.” Amazon review.

Link: The Judas Inheritance

Lonely House

This also started out as an idea for a film script. It’s a classic ‘cabin in the woods’ type of horror story, has a small cast, would make a good play or film, I feel, and has a mild gay vibe between the two central characters. Here’s the blurb.

How much horror can one friendship take?

Drover and Pete are two hopeful drifters looking for a better life. Desperate for food, they break into an isolated house deep in a forest. There, they accidentally shoot an old man just as the rest of his family arrive for a birthday gathering.

Under intense suspicion from the family, the boys attempt to cover up the accident. But they are not the only ones keeping a murderous secret. Mistrust and deception unearth a primaeval ritual as the lies give way to a terrifying truth.

With time running out, and a deadly force closing in, Drover and Pete’s survival rests on the strength of their friendship, but they must face some horrific choices in order to stay alive.

Another fantastic horror story from James. Full of mystery and suspense, the story will keep you guessing right up till the end.” Amazon review.

Link: Lonely House

The Saddling Series

Although not horror in the gory sense, The Saddling, Witchling and Eastling are suspenseful, and are a mix of supernatural, mystery and thriller. They are an ongoing series set in the present day (2012 onwards) on the Romney Marshes, in Kent. The village of Saddling thrives under its own archaic rules. Mostly cut off from the rest of the world, it has continued with its superstitions and rituals since it was founded in the 13th century. This is currently a three-part series, and I must get around to writing the fourth, because each one takes an element (earth, air, fire, water), a season and a solstice day. There is also a coming out and acceptance theme running through the series as a gay relationship develops.

Here’s the link to the series page on Amazon. The Saddling Mysteries.

Here are the blurbs:

The Saddling

To inherit his aunt’s fortune, Tom Carey must unlock a one-hundred-year-old family mystery. The solution lies on the Romney Marshes where the village of Saddling lives by an ancient Lore. Unknown to Tom, the villagers set in motion a chain of calculated events that will ensure that the winter solstice will witness their last ever ‘Saddling’ festival.

Unaware that his life is in danger, Tom befriends two village youths. Through the mists of fear and confusion, their friendship forces Tom to confront a secret of his own.

Tom finds himself the unwitting hero in a struggle between superstition and sense, denial and love, with no escape from either.

Meticulously imagined in the eerie mists of Romney Marsh. A wonderfully evocative landscape of mystery.” Ann Butler Rowlands (Author of ‘Heaven’)

Link: The Saddling

The Witchling

“The sins of our ancestors have committed us to the flames.”
Saddling is cursed and dying. The village will be lost unless someone burns at the stake on solstice morning. Six months after the life-changing events of The Saddling, Tom Carey must solve the witchling mystery and risk his life to save his lover.
The Witchling is the follow-on to James Collins’ best-selling novel, The Saddling.
Mystery and action combine in a sweltering thriller set on Romney Marsh.

This is an edge of the seat page turner which just keeps on twisting in a new direction right to the very end.” Amazon review.

Link: The Witchling

The Eastling

“At harvest tide no place to hide as Eastling passes through.”

The spectre of revenge stalks Saddling, and the Eastling is hungry for a victim. At some time on autumn equinox night, someone in the village will die.

Tom Carey fights to hold a divided village together while racing to unlock the riddle of a boy long dead. But pages of the Lore are mysteriously missing, and all he has to work with are a looker’s spoketale and a blind woman’s poem. As solstice approaches and the vengeful grey-hang thickens, Tom realises who the victim could be. Him.

Believable characters, gripping atmosphere and tension, all skilfully woven into an absorbing mystery set in the eerie landscape of Romney Marsh.”

(Emma Batten, author of Romney Marsh historical fiction)

Link: The Eastling


Andjela, my cover designer, designed the last two covers – Witchling and Eastling – the others were designed by someone else. I haven’t got to part four of the Saddling series (yet), but I did start writing it. As I did, I realised I was writing a different kind of story, and turning everyone gay. That wasn’t what the series was about, but I had such an urge to mix gay, history and mystery, I left it and tinkered with an idea that became Deviant Desire. That became an 11-book series and led to the Larkspur Mysteries, and I’m just about to reveal the cover of book two in that series, ‘Keepers of the Past.’

How was that for a segue? Eh?

Before the cover reveal, the blurb.

Keepers of the Past
The Larkspur Mysteries Book Two
Jackson Marsh

Forgive when there is nothing to forgive, and forget when there is.
Barbary Fleet, September 1890

Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, September 1890

Deaf since birth, Joe Tanner is destined for a life of misery in the workhouse until Lord Clearwater offers him a place at the curious Larkspur Academy in Cornwall. There, while adjusting to his new life, His Lordship challenges Joe to unlock the mystery of the Colvannick stone row.

As Joe sets about his task, he suspects a connection between the standing stones and a series of unsolved murders. The problem is convincing others, and his obsession soon threatens his relationship with his lover, Dalston Blaze. Joe’s determination to unearth the truth also jeopardises his place at the academy, but a man’s life is at stake, and the only one who believes in the mysteries of the past is Joe — and the killer who is prepared to murder anyone who interferes.

The second of The Larkspur Mysteries continues from book one, ‘The Guardians of the Poor.’ The Larkspur Mysteries are inspired by existing locations and newspaper reports from the time and combine fact, fiction, adventure and bromance.

If you have not yet read the preceding series, ‘The Clearwater Mysteries’, you might like to start with book one, ‘Deviant Desire.’ There are 11 books in the ongoing series including a prequel, ‘Banyak and Fecks’ which can be read first, although it is not a mystery. To get the most out of it, you should read it just before you read book nine, ‘Negative Exposure.’

The Clearwater and Larkspur Mysteries all feature gay main characters and are set at a time when homosexuality is illegal. They are a combination of MM/romance, mystery and bromance, and are inspired by historical fact.

I am aiming to have ‘Keepers’ up on Amazon by the end of the first week in November. Keep an eye on my Facebook page for details.

And now, finally, the cover. Again, another masterwork by Andjela K. Click the photo for the reveal, and I’ll see you next week.

Guardians of the Poor: Release and Cover Reveal

Guardians of the Poor: Release and Cover Reveal

Hello everyone!

I have exciting news for you this week and a unique treat. ‘Guardians of the Poor’ will be available in a couple of days, and as soon as it is, I will put the links on my Facebook Page. I also have the cover to show you. This is the first time anyone has seen it, and we will get to that in a minute.

Guardians of the Poor

Guardians of the Poor is the first in a new series, ‘The Larkspur Mysteries.’ This series follows on from ‘The Clearwater Mysteries’ and concerns some of the original characters but introduces new ones as we enter the world of Clearwater’s new academy. The Larkspur Academy is not a school, college or any other kind of institution in the usual sense, it’s a place where young men with a specific talent can come and be safe. Clearwater identifies these men, all of whom have something in common, and invites them to start a new life under the tutorship of Professor Fleet, or, as he prefers to be called, just Fleet.

This is actually my husband, Neil, but the image inspired me to write Fleet.

Fleet is something of an eccentric but is also a genius, and he brings some humour to the story while mentoring his young men, edging them towards self-improvement and allowing them to come out of their various shells (and to come out). Fleet, however, is not the main character in this first story; that role falls to a young man called Dalston Blaze. Where Archer (Clearwater) is the protagonist, Dalston is the main character and his friend Joe Tanner is the second MC if you like, or as some would say the impact character. Dalston finds himself with a sidekick, the foul-mouthed but totally loyal Greek-Londoner, Frank, and comes up against the flirtatious Scotsman, Duncan Fairbairn, who we first met in ‘Negative Exposure’, book nine of the Clearwater series.

The Mystery

The mystery in ‘Guardians’ isn’t so much a mystery but a problem to be solved, although there is a mystery quest, ‘Where is Joe, and how can we find him?’ That falls to the detectives, James Wright and Silas Hawkins to discover, along with Duncan, now their researcher. James and Silas are based in London, where they are watched over by the motherly Mrs Norwood, who has a crucial role to play later in the story. Meanwhile, Archer is at Larkspur, working with Dalston to uncover the story of the villains, a workhouse master and his schoolteacher, two very nasty pieces of work.

The story moves from London to Cornwall and the academy on the Larkspur estate, back to London, and finally, back to Cornwall, and the ending leads into book two, which I have started writing.

Workhouses and Deafness

As you know, I like to include actual events, places and sometimes people with my fiction, and ‘Guardians’ was inspired by a newspaper report about two men accused of and tried for ‘unnatural offences’ (i.e., gay sex). The book opens with a version of that newspaper report, which I first put in word for word. Then, after reading it back, I realised how convoluted and confusing the report was, so I tidied it up to make it more readable. It concerned the Chelsea workhouse in 1890, but I moved my action to the Hackney workhouse, because I knew the area better, and was more easily able to research the actual workhouse. Much of what you will read in the book is based on an authentic account of a man living in such an institution, as well as other writings I have found from those who experienced workhouse life first-hand.

Larkspur in BSL fingerspelling (gif)

My second principal character, Joe Tanner, is deaf. I thought it high time we addressed some social issues in my mysteries, and I have long wanted to write a deaf character, and I mean one who has been deaf from birth. Joe is deaf and dumb (I am sure there’s a more PC expression, but we are dealing with 1890 here), and that presented me with all manner of interesting challenges when writing him. Even more so now I have started on book two, where Joe is the main character.
I have been researching what it is like to be deaf to the point of studying sign language (BSL) and am trying to get to the bottom of how to write from a deaf person’s point of view. As you may know, I tend to write my novels from the characters’ POV, rather than an all-seeing narrator, and part of that is writing the action using words and thoughts suitable for the narrating character. Archer, for example, has a slightly more educated narrator’s voice than James or Silas. But how to do it for Joe? Because he is deaf from birth, he doesn’t know what words sound like, so when he reads, he doesn’t have a voice in his head, but instead (as I understand it), visualises signs and images. There are only a few instances when we hear Joe’s point of view in ‘Guardians’ but there will be much more in book two. That’s currently untitled, but it will involve a mystery of standing stones and murder.

But I am getting ahead of myself…

Guardians of the Poor, cover reveal

As I said, I will let you know when the book is ready, and I’ll announce that on Facebook, and here, later. Knowing how these things work, you may get a notification from Amazon before I do. That often happens because of the time differences around the world. I am aiming to upload the files this weekend. I am just waiting for the full cover from Andjela, so the print version may be a couple of days later than the Kindle. As usual, the book will be available for Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and in Paperback and only from Amazon.

And now, I can reveal the cover. Beneath this image, I have put the blurb for Guardians and the new series, but before that… Click the image, the Kindle cover will open, and you will be the first to see it.

Guardians of the Poor
Jackson Marsh

The greatest gift one man may give another is his trust.”
Barbary Fleet, 1890.

Standing stones, messages written in symbols, and the language of the deaf. It falls to Lord Clearwater to unlock the mystery of Dalston Blaze and his deaf friend, Joe Tanner, two young men arrested for committing ‘unnatural offences’ at the Hackney workhouse.

Dalston hopes for a prison sentence. It’s the only way to save his life. Instead, he is bailed to the Larkspur Academy on Lord Clearwater’s Cornish estate, where there is only one rule: honesty above all else. For Dalston, this means confronting his past, learning to trust, and admitting his secrets. Joe is the key, but Joe is missing, and his location is locked deep inside a memory seen in sign language, and clouded by eighteen years of workhouse life.

If Dalston remains silent, the immoral workhouse master and his sadistic schoolteacher will continue to inflict pain and suffering on all inmates of the Hackney workhouse. If he tells the truth, he and Joe will die.

The Guardians of the Poor is a combination of mystery, adventure and male romance, set in 1890. It draws on first-hand accounts of workhouse life at the time, and is the first of a new series of mysteries set in the Clearwater world.

The Larkspur Mysteries series

Beginning in 1890, The Larkspur Mysteries follow on from The Clearwater Mysteries series of 11 novels. It’s not necessary to have read the Clearwater books before you embark on the Larkspur series. However, if you enjoy mystery, romance, adventure and a mix of historical fact and fiction, then begin the journey with ‘Deviant Desire.’ (Or the non-mystery prequel, ‘Banyak & Fecks.’)

Lord Clearwater has created a unique academy for disadvantaged young men. The Larkspur Academy is, ‘A non-academic institution with the aim to provide deserving men the opportunity to expand talent, horizons and knowledge for the betterment of the underprivileged and general society.’ It’s not a school. There are no lessons, no teachers, no schoolboys and no rules. The series exists in the established Clearwater world of the late 1800’s where homosexuality is a crime everywhere but on Clearwater’s country estate in Cornwall.

The series is ongoing. Each story involves male bonding, bromance, friendship and love. Mystery, adventure and a little comedy play their parts, and every story is inspired by true events from the past.

The Clearwater Inheritance. The End of the Line?

The Clearwater Inheritance. The End of the Line?

I have quite a lot of news for you today, starting with the release of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, book ten in the series. As I write, the Kindle version is now available to download, and the book is also on Kindle Unlimited. You can find it here. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0971F1HT3 That’s the Amazon.com link, but it is available in other Amazon countries/sites too.

The paperback version is still being checked by the Amazon bots and going through that process but should be available any moment if it’s not already out there. You will be able to find it from the main Clearwater Series page here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07RPCKF4L

Is this the end of Clearwater?

In a word, no. Having written ten stories and a prequel, so 11 books in total, I thought it might be time for a change. However, I enjoy the Clearwater world and characters so much, I don’t want to let them go. What was starting to become a problem for me, though, was having so many characters I wanted to write about, and I was looking for a way to deal with this. In ‘Inheritance’, I wanted to give a sense of something ending and something about to begin, and I wanted as many of my principles to play a part as possible without the story becoming cluttered. So, without giving anything away…

In ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, you’ll find four storylines taking place, and all leading to the same end: Who will inherit the Clearwater fortune and name? The story is set in three locations; Larkspur Hall in Cornwall, Clearwater House in London and across Europe. After it becomes clear that the inheritance is in jeopardy, the ‘crew’ split up to work various leads. Some stay at Larkspur, some go to London, and two head off to the Carpathian Mountains. Each team is working their own lead and has their own tasks. Meanwhile, the usurper to the Clearwater fortune is heading towards them with a devious plan of his own.

That’s the basic outline, but Clearwater’s inheritance (and thus, his ability to fund charities, run the mission, help those in need and do what he does) is not the only thing that might be lost. His new venture, The Larkspur Academy, will not happen if he loses the race to secure what is rightfully his. And that’s where the continuation comes in.

I’m now starting on the follow-on series, The Larkspur Mysteries. My intention is to bring in new characters and make each mystery/love story/mashup mainly about one new and central character. However, they exist in the Clearwater world. So, in the first book, which currently has a working title of ‘Dalston Blaze’, we meet an eighteen-year-old chap brought up in a workhouse. He is rescued from a predicament and sent to Larkspur to join the new ‘Academy.’ Thus, some of the existing characters play parts in the new series but are not always central. I’ll say no more for fear of giving away things that happen in ‘Inheritance.’

Thanks

This seems an appropriate place to thank people for their help in making the Clearwater series such a popular success. First of all, you, the readers who keep the writing going not only through book sales and reviews but also through interaction on my Facebook page. I must also thank those who work behind the scenes to ensure historical accuracy, people such as Andy Ward, my railways guru who helps with timetables and routes and all those factual details I love to insert into the fiction. Jenine, my PA, who does sterling work to promote the books and this site, and who keeps me in line with orders to post this and write an interview for that while holding down two full-time jobs, one of which is bringing up my two godchildren. Similarly, I must thank Neil, my husband, for reading the first drafts, calling me a ‘bastard’ for making him cry and laughing in the right places.

On the publishing side, my proofreader, Ann Attwood, tirelessly corrects my punctuation and typos with the patience of a saint and never complains when I repeatedly make the same mistakes despite her notes. Andjela K, my cover designer who, I think you’ll agree, produces some amazing covers. She does this from a few notes I send her and always seems to understand exactly what I am after. For ‘Inheritance’, I would like to thank Khayyam Akhtar, who produced an accurate map of the route two characters take across Europe, including the route of the Orient Express, which features in the story. The map is based on an existing German map of the time. Finally, Scott and Mark at Other Worlds Ink who now do my layout and interior design, and their reviewer Maryann who has been so supportive.

Price changes

And now for some business news. Thanks to various changes in tax and stuff I don’t fully understand, I have to put up the price of my eBooks and paperbacks. We noticed that many people sell their ‘novels’ at the same price as me, but those novels are actually novellas or even short stories. I have always tried to keep my prices low, but I was recently reminded that I am producing full-length novels of at least 90,000 words, and I should be offering them at a price more appropriate to the amount of material. For example, ‘Inheritance’ is 150,000 words long (which is why the print costs are more than usual), and that’s a lot of typing for a return of only $0.17c per sale.

However, for three days starting tomorrow, the first in the series will be run as a giveaway, so ‘Deviant Desire’ will be available for free for a very limited time. This is to celebrate the ‘end’ of the series and hopefully encourage new readers to start at the beginning and carry on through by buying the other 10 books. This, by the way, will be my first ever price rise since I started publishing ten years ago.

Instagram

A quick note. I now have an Instagram account/page/thing, and although I don’t really know what Instagram does, you can now follow me there.

MM Fiction Café on Sunday has an Interview with Archer

The MM Fiction Café will be hosting an interview with Archer, Lord Clearwater, this Sunday, 13th June. Check out their blog post, and find out a little more about Archer than you might already know.

A Treat from Doctor Markland

And finally… Another talented artist has been working with me to produce sketches of some of the characters for the Clearwater Family page, which you can find in the main menu. Dazzling Designz works through a ‘work for sale’ site and has been drawing several of the Clearwater crew over the last few months.

Her latest is a sketch of Doctor Markland, the scatty but brilliant doctor who first appears in ‘Deviant Desire.’ (He actually appears in the prequel, Banyak & Fecks too, if you look closely). The Doc has just appeared in an early scene in the new Larkspur Academy series, so he’s still with us. I thought I’d end by showing you the sketch. This is how I imagine him. Oh, and here’s a little known fact… When I was born, I was delivered — in the harsh winter of 63 when the Romney Marshes were deep in snow and the roads impassable — by our family doctor, Doctor Markland. He was nothing like the Doc in my books, though he did, apparently, take a first look at me and say, ‘He looks like a keen beer drinker; you should call him Toby,’ so he wasn’t far off.

I’ll be back next week. If, in the meantime, you want something to read, then ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ is out there and waiting.

The Clearwater Inheritance: Blurb, Excerpt and Cover

The Clearwater Inheritance: Blurb, Excerpt and Cover

Today, I have an advance peek at the blurb, cover, and part of The Clearwater Inheritance, book ten in The Clearwater Mysteries series. We are aiming for publication around the 12th of June, so keep an eye on my Facebook page for more details.

The blurb

A book blurb is the text you find on the back of a book, the thing that tells you a little about the story you are about to read. For ‘Inheritance’ I didn’t want to give too much away, and it’s quite a complicated story. A blurb should be short and to the point, and they are often the most difficult things to write. I try to start with a ‘logline’, as they call it in the film world; a short statement that sums up the entire story. Here’s an example taken from ‘Game of Shadows.’ Detective Sherlock Holmes is on the trail of criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty, who is carrying out a string of random crimes across Europe.

That tells us who and what the film is about, though it doesn’t give details, nor does it spoil any surprises.

Here is what I have for The Clearwater Inheritance at the moment. You will notice I have also included a quote because that’s just something I like to do when I can.

Excerpt

Here’s an excerpt that doesn’t give away any spoilers, but, I hope, it will leave you wondering what’s going on. This hasn’t been proofread or formatted yet, and it may change slightly by the time of publication. It is part of chapter 30, and I have omitted the first part of the chapter so as not to spoil anything for you, but I have put the chapter heading.

Between Szeged, Hungary and Vienna, Austria

Saturday 18th January
Night

The locomotive steamed west from Budapest, its steel plough slicing snow and hurling it aside in swathes. Its pistons pumped an incessant pulse, while the chimney belched a constant stream of smoke that billowed from tunnels and trailed behind to hover above the sleeping countryside.
Cities fell away to become dense forests topped with silvery-blue moonlight that bathed the land from the hedgerows to the star-showered horizon. The Danube glinted beneath the cloudless sky until the train left the river to its meandering and sped away on its own path. The warm throw of yellow light from the dining car brushed banks and fields, the silhouettes of the wealthy rising and falling over cuttings in distorted shapes and vanishing as the carriages pounded across bridges. Firemen shovelled, stewards served, and passengers dreamt of elegance in gently rocking bunks, unaware of the rise and fall of the hills, and the urgent, shrill night-cry of the whistle.
The Orient Express kept its times, crossed the borders, and made its destinations. It saw its passengers on and off through a night that held the continent from Constantinople to Calais in an icy grip as brittle as the thinnest crystal. Night ferries crossed the channel miles from the locomotive and its precious passengers, and the same moon glowed as full over them as it did over Larkspur Hall. The same light bathed the moor, its rises and valleys a patchwork of grey and silver shadows, the countryside blanketed in a fine covering of pristine snow.
An owl swooped from an ancient, weathered oak to glide across a frozen stream. Alert for movement but finding none, it rose on silent wings to watch over the estate where Larkspur waited in the pensive darkness, shuttered and blind. The owl circled the tower and followed the parapet, passing rooms where footmen slept, and dormers under which maids turned in dreams of sweethearts and summer days. Attracted by a solitary light, the bird landed on a cornice washed by the throw from an oil lamp and twitched its head, intrigued by and concerned for what took place inside.
Beneath the sloping roof, a young man sat on the edge of an older woman’s bed, holding her hand, and mopping her brow. Her lips moved weakly, and her pale flesh was uncoloured by the lamp-throw which lit the man’s hair in shades of russet and bronze. Light caught the tears that dropped from his cheeks as, leaning closer to listen, he gripped the frail hand tightly, made promises, spoke comforting words and said thanks, until the life in her dulling eyes faded.
His head hung, and his shoulders heaved as he placed her hands across her chest. Wiping his cheeks, he closed her eyes before lifting the sheet to cover her head and said a final goodbye.
When the man approached the window and placed a candle there to flicker in remembrance, the owl dropped from the parapet and continued its flight. It passed the tower where a younger man slept beside a dying fire with a letter in one hand. Building plans, fallen from the other, lay on the floor abandoned to sleep.
The owl passed into the depths of night, while in the corridor beyond the tower, a butler turned down the gas until the passage was a monochrome path of dimly glowing glass and careful footsteps. Pausing at a door, he listed for sounds from within, but his master was sleeping, and he continued to where the two wings of the house met. There, with the grand hall in darkness, he slipped through the baize and followed the winding, stone steps to the ground floor, dimming lamps and securing locks.
The servants’ hall was deserted, but in a few hours, would begin another day as the hall boys laid the fire and stoked the ovens, swept the floors, and washed the tables long before the day considered dawning. The butler met his steward there and learnt his news. The men consoled each other, reminded themselves of their positions and responsibilities, and went their separate ways.
The steward took the path the butler had recently taken, along concealed passages, up the winding stairs, and emerged in the grand hall, there to pause for a moment to relive a memory before climbing to the first floor. Like his colleague, he stopped outside the master bedroom but didn’t disturb its occupant. Instead, let himself into his own room, there to mourn alone.
Throughout the Hall, bristles of moonlight investigated curtain edges and stole around them to play on rugs and furniture. Clocks ticked, and springs wound towards release. The considered chime of a grandfather clock struck regretfully from the library and echoed through the stillness, while the drawing room carriage clock tinkled, polite and distant. In the smoking room, the Wilard lighthouse tolled beneath its dome, and the brass spheres of the anniversary timepiece swung relentlessly back and forth.
In the study, soft ticking on the mantlepiece counted away the seconds, as the last of the embers shuffled through the grate to their rest. Gently, the hour passed, the echoes died, and Larkspur slept in darkness.
But not in silence.
At some time during the night, when clouds had put the moon to bed, and the owl had retaken its perch on the faraway oak, the wood and brass telegraph shocked itself into life. In the alcove beside the moon-forgotten desk, the steel pins snapped their delicate jaws in urgent rhythm, and the wheel turned.

Cover

And finally, the cover.
As you may know, I have been working with graphic designer, Andjela Vujic since publishing my first novel. She has designed all my covers, and some have been nominated for awards. Again, she has come up with exactly the image I had in my mind when I outlined the main elements of the story. What’s unusual about this one is that it’s the first of my covers not to feature a figure. If you look at the Clearwater covers, you can see Archer, Silas, Fecker, Jasper, Billy, and the assassin, Dorjan. There are too many main players in ‘Inheritance’ to single anyone out for the cover, and so I went for… Well, I shan’t tell you as you’ve not seen it yet.

When you’re ready, you can click the reveal image below, and the full front cover will open in a separate window.
But don’t do it just yet! I have one more piece of news. Next Saturday, I have a guest blog post for you. It is not from another author, and it’s not advertising anyone else’s books. It’s not even a character interview, though the man who will be writing it is something of a character. My husband, Neil, will be writing his thoughts about what it’s like to married to an author. I can’t wait. (I think.)
Okay, now click the reveal to see the cover, and remember to keep an eye on the blog and the Facebook page for more news of the release date for The Clearwater Inheritance.

Click to see the cover

New Release: Negative Exposure

New Release: Negative Exposure

Today I have news of my latest release, Negative Exposure.

This is book nine in the ongoing Clearwater Mystery series. It not only gives you a mystery, an exciting finale with a face-off and chase, but it also paves the way for book ten—more about that in a minute. First, I would like to tell you a little about what is behind Negative Exposure and how I came to write it.

Banyak & Fecks

Although this is book nine in the popular series, it is born out of the series prequel, Banyak & Fecks. When I was writing the prequel, I was researching what my main character, Silas Hawkins, might have done to make ends meet. If you have read it, you will know he moved to London in 1884, aged 16, to find his fortune, send money home to his sisters so they could survive. He was always a petty-criminal and not afraid of the law, so he fell into dipping (pickpocketing) and running scams. Having met Andrej (Fecks), he discovered prostitution, which led him to pose naked for a photographer.

There is a scene in Banyak & Fecks where Silas goes to have his photos taken, and it all goes wrong (no spoilers). That was the starting point for the idea behind Negative Exposure.

The story starts in December 1889 and the second Clearwater Foundation gala, held at the Lyceum Theatre in London. Silas is now the Foundation’s public face, and the Queen’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor, is considering becoming a patron of the charity. It’s all going well, but then Silas’ old life comes back to haunt him. The story of his past unfolds, and in the narrative, we’re taken back to the scene of the photographic session. From then on, the mystery becomes more complicated as James and Fecker work together to discover the villain’s identity and do something about it before it’s too late…

The Obscene Publications Act of 1857

This act of British law, also called Lord Campbell’s Act, was introduced into statute because, Prior to this Act, the “exposure for sale” of “obscene books and prints” had been made illegal by the Vagrancy Act 1824. but the publication of obscene material was a common-law misdemeanour. The effective prosecution of authors and publishers was difficult even in cases where the material was clearly intended as pornography. [Wikipedia]

Researching into this act, because I like to include factual historical details in my fiction, I discovered that the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Campbell, presided over its creation when the House of Commons was debating a bill to restrict the sale of poisons. Campbell made the analogy that (what we now call) pornography was a sale of poison more deadly than prussic acid, strychnine or arsenic. So, our obscenity laws stemmed from the sale of poison, and the act was not repealed and updated until over one hundred years later, in 1959.

All very interesting, but what I found more interesting was the law didn’t say anything about those who made the pornography or appeared in it. It was purely to do with the sale of printed works. More interesting, though typical of the time, was the blatant hypocrisy behind notions of pornography. It was something that would adversely affect women and young people — men, it seems, were not affected by images of naked men. I also looked into that and had to wonder how a person can pose for an artist and have a nude painting represent, say, a Classic figure from mythology and people call it acceptable art, and yet a naked man posing in the same fashion but for a camera was considered pornography. That was something of a rabbit hole, and one I may go further down one day.

All interesting stuff, and slightly explored in Negative Exposure, which is more a mystery thriller than it is a work about the originals of the Obscene Publications Act of 1857.

The Russian or Asiatic Influenza Pandemic of 1889/1890

Another aspect of Negative Exposure is the background world, what was actually happening in London in 1889, and that, ironically enough, was an influenza pandemic. It started in Asia and quickly spread across Europe in 1889, reaching London late in the year, just about the time my story starts. That, I thought, would act as a handy added layer of tension and could also make for a couple of twists.

And On To Book Ten

While writing Negative Exposure, my mind was already fast-forwarding to the next book.

Now then, some people might think that ten books in one series is enough, and right now, I agree. It’s not that I am getting tired of my characters or world, but I wonder if the reader might be. As the series has grown, so has the cast list, and there is now a group of ten main characters. They, I thought, might make for a good and final part ten. ‘The Power of Ten’ was my original idea, and I thought of a story that would see all ten main players banding together to fix one final mystery.

[The ten, by the way, would be: Clearwater and Silas, James and Thomas, Jasper & Billy, Fecker & Lucy, Mrs Norwood, Doctor Markland.]

Map showing the spread of the pandemic, 1889 to 1890

However, when I started on Negative Exposure and brought in the influenza pandemic as background colour, another idea occurred to me. This was an idea I had a while back, and one that concerns Archer (Lord Clearwater’s) title and estates. It’s complicated because he is the second son and the oldest one—the ‘real’ viscount—is still alive though stripped of his title (which, I don’t think, was possible, but this is fiction). So, I started to think, what would happen if Archer’s land, money, charities, business and all that were in jeopardy? Not the man himself, but everything he stands for. Well, actually, why not the man himself as well? What if Archer stands to lose everything? How might that come about? What could be done to save it?

And that’s how part ten has started. So far, it is titled ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, and the last couple of chapters of Negative Exposure pave the way and start the story rolling.

I am working on it. It’s turning out to be complicated to hone down to the simplest way of explaining the inheritance problem and how it might be shifted from one man to another, and it’s giving me a headache. But, once I have the technicalities nailed down, the rest of the story will flow because I have already invented it in my head.

‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ won’t be out for a few months, as I have to get everything right, and there are lots of ends to tie up before the series finishes.

Except, it’s not going to finish, not really, and not if I can keep the momentum and direct it into a siding. You see, I have an idea for a second series based in the Clearwater World, and the groundwork for that is also laid out in the final chapters of Negative Exposure, and the foundations will be laid during the telling of book ten, The Clearwater Inheritance.

No promises, but don’t worry that you after book ten you won’t read of Archer, Silas, Fecks and the crew, because they will be back as background characters in a new series, ‘The Larkspur Academy Mysteries’, or adventures, or… well, it’s all still rather in the planning stage, and I am not even sure it will be written.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling from me. The main point here is that Negative Exposure is now available in paperback and Kindle and on Kindle Unlimited if you use that service, and it’s set at the same price as all my other books. Just follow the links, read, enjoy, and if you do, review and share the news.

Thanks for being here, and I will see you next week.

Jackson

Notes From Home

Notes From Home

I thought I would combine book news with a personal update this week, and I have a few things to tell you about.

Banyak & Fecks

First of all, ‘Banyak & Fecks’, published at the start of the week, has already received a cracking, five-star review. This is a prequel to The Clearwater Mysteries and is written in, dare I say it, a more literary style. It’s not the usual murder, madness and mayhem of the books that follow, there are no cryptic clues for the reader to solve as you travel through the story with the Clearwater Crew, and although I’d consider it romantic, it’s not a romance.

Banyak & Fecks is the story of how Silas and Andrej met on the streets of the East End in 1844. It tells of their growing relationship through to the day or so before ‘Deviant Desire‘ starts in 1888. The boys were teenagers at this time (although that word didn’t exist then), and I wanted to give an idea of what it’s like for a young man to experience the confusions of sexuality at that age and in that era.

I also wanted to drop in plotlines and people who appear in the books that follow, and astute readers will notice some. Without giving things away, when you read the story, you meet characters from ‘Deviant Desire’ (Molly at the rope house, for example, and a couple of the future victims of the Ripper). You also meet Eddie Lovemount from books two to four. James Wright is mentioned, as is the Cleaver Street brothel from ‘Fallen Splendour.’ I even put in a meeting with a doctor who has a bushy moustache and who Fecker thinks was called Marked-land, or something. It is Dr Markland, of course, appearing a few years before his first proper appearance in book one.

What I also did, was to lay down some of Silas’ past which could later come back to haunt him, and that leads me onto…

My Next Writing Project

Tower Bridge, London, being built in circa 1889, as mentioned in Banyak & Fecks.

To be honest, I’ve been having trouble starting the next Clearwater book, and I think that’s because I stepped away from the series to add in the prequel. Having said that, I have written four different openings of the same story, sometimes three or four chapters, but can’t decide which way to go. The other day, I went back to an old file and reread one of my opening chapter ideas, and something went ‘ping!’ So, I am now starting on that version of the next story, the working title of which was ‘Men of a Similar Heart’, but which, I think, will now be something else.

I won’t say too much about book nine, as I hope it will become, but I will tell you that it currently starts in December 1889 at the second Clearwater Foundation Gala – as foreshadowed in ‘Bitter Bloodline’, which is taking place at Henry Irving’s Lyceum Theatre. I intend to tie the story in with something that happened in ‘Banyak & Fecks’ that involved a photographer… And that’s all I am going to say about that. If all goes well, you can look forward to the next Clearwater instalment early next year.

Meanwhile…

Giveaway

Before that, we have Christmas, and as you may know by now, we’re running a free book giveaway. Head to my Facebook page, give it a like and follow, and every day, you can enter a draw to win a signed paperback copy of ‘Banyak and Fecks.’ There’s a different quote from a blurb or book every day, and all you have to do is correctly identify the book to have your name put into the hat. You can enter every day, so you have 24 chances of winning.

And while all that is going on…

Home news – a trip to Canada

I have been posting five times per week on my personal blog, www.symidream.com

The view from our sitting room.

This is a blog I have kept up for the last 14 years (I think it is, certainly a long time), and there, I put up photos of the Greek island Neil and I live on, and write a little each day about what we’re up to. Sometimes I write more in-depth posts, and sometimes I just ramble about what I am writing. These past three weeks, I have been writing about the holiday we took back in early March before C-19 took over when we went to London and Canada. You’ll have to go back to the start of November to begin at post one, but from there, you can follow the story through to the last day (yesterday). From now on, I’ll be back to my usual kind of Symi blogging.

Symi harbour last week.

For us, here in our rented house overlooking a glorious harbour, it’s mainly been about being locked down (the Greek national lockdown is now running until at least the 14th December), and so we’ve not been doing much. We have been out for a few walks, Neil more so than me, and we’ve watched a lot of TV. I’ve also started back on building a plastic model kit. This one is of The Invisible Man, and the kitchen table is currently covered with paints and pieces while the air is perfumed with white spirit and glue.

Not me, but my boarding school as I remember it.

I used to make these kits when I was 13 at prep school and took up the hobby again a couple of years ago. I make the Universal Horror Model kits, originally produced by Aurora with glow in the dark pieces. These days, the originals are collectors’ items (I have two) and not exactly cheap. So, I make the remoulds. The best time to do this is when we have one of our Greek island biblical thunderstorms, as we do in the winter when we unplug the router and computers, and I can sit for hours fiddling with paintbrushes and let my imagination wander to create the next Clearwater scene.

The current state of the kitchen table.

We have also been preparing for Christmas, though no decorations yet. Every year for the past 16 or so, we’ve spent Christmas Day with Jenine (our bestie and now my PA), and her two children, our godsons. Hopefully, this year will be no different, and it’s always a day of madness and fun. I’ve been teaching our youngest godson, Harry (13), to play the piano, and we currently have lessons via WhatsApp. He’s only been learning a year and is already over halfway through his first grade, so I am a very proud god-dad.

Get In Touch

I’ll finish by asking you if you have anything you’d like me to write about in my weekly blog. Would you like to know more about my writing process, how I came to be living on a Greek island, what I am planning, what’s my favourite book…? Anything at all, just drop me an email to jack @ jacksonmarsh.com, or leave a comment on my Facebook page, and I’ll do my best to blog about what you want to read.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, thanks for your reviews of my books, stay safe, and most of all, keep reading.

How I Write Book Blurbs – And A Christmas Giveaway

How I Write Book Blurbs – And A Christmas Giveaway

Recently, I noticed a few new writers on Facebook groups asking for advice about their blurbs and putting up some examples of what they had come up with. I found myself cringing at some and being impressed by others, and thought I would talk about the way I write mine. This short guide is about what I do. Whether you decide this is a good way to do it, or whether you think, ‘Hm, I’ll avoid his advice,’ it’s up to you.

There’s another reason for doing this today, which you will see if you follow my Facebook page during December. I will be running a prize draw through the month and giving away a signed copy of ‘Banyak & Fecks’ on Christmas Day. I’ll tell you more about that after I’ve blurbed about blurbs.

So, what is a blurb?

A blurb, also known as a book description, is found on the inside back cover of a hardback, on the back cover of a paperback and/or on the Amazon page under the product description. It’s the thing that a potential reader usually looks at after they’ve been impressed by your cover, or not. It’s your story in a nutshell and is probably the hardest thing to write after a logline. You are condensing your book into 150 to 200 words, after all, but you are doing so much more than that.

Start with a Logline

A logline is perhaps more of a filmmaker’s term, and it aims to reduce the film/story into even fewer words. When I write my books, I desperately fight to come up with a logline first, so I know what my story is, and then using that line as my focus to keep myself on track.

Yeah, right, well… Often I come up with it halfway through or at the end, because by then, I actually know what the story is about because the characters have taken over, but that’s me, and that’s novel writing. Film loglines, however, are a good place to start when writing a blurb because they help you focus.

An example of a logline would be: The ageing patriarch of an organised crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son. (The Godfather)

Loglines are not to be confused with taglines, the publicity headings if you like. A tagline would be ‘In space, no one can hear you scream’ (Alien), or, ‘There are 3.7 trillion fish in the sea. They’re looking for one.’ (Finding Nemo).

A logline for my new release (due out on Monday/Tuesday of next week) might be:
A Ukrainian refugee and the son of an Irish immigrant meet, bond, and become sex workers in Victorian London.

That’s a very simple outline of ‘Banyak & Fecks’ but is the overarching story, therefore should be the basis of the blurb.

From Logline to Blurb

Do you know what your story is about, or do you only know what happens?
A blurb isn’t a synopsis. Well, it is, kind of, but it’s not a full synopsis. It’s 150 to 200 words that a) introduce your main characters, b) set the stage for your conflict, c) establish the stakes/risks, d) show the reader why they will like this book. Simple, eh?

No, not really.

Here’s a made-up example of what I consider a bad blurb based on a few I have read.
“Jack searches for love and has a one night stand with Jock that leads to them becoming insta-lovers, but Jess gets jealous and kills Jack in a brawl the next day. Jock yearns for his lost love like a teenager with raging hormones. Will he ever find happiness?”

For a start, I am already confused between Jack, Jock and Jess. However ‘insta-lovers’ suggests a bit of nookie might happen as long as we understand the modernism, ‘insta.’ We know one of them gets killed, so that’s that tension gone, but who are these people and what chemicals were they taking? ‘A teenager with raging hormones searching for love?’ What does that mean? After that, I didn’t care who found love and moved on.

It’s difficult. In fact, writing a blurb is more difficult than writing a 120k word novel or a 100-word synopsis. I just took another look at my ‘Banyak & Fecks’ blurb and realised I’d written 196 words, which is a bit over the top, but I also noticed I’d cheated.

How? Well, I’ve put certain information outside of the book description, but I reckon that’s okay because that info will be for the Amazon page, and people will have read that before buying the paperback, so I don’t need it on the back. Your Amazon book description can give more information than you book blurb, and so, is a convenient space in which you can expand your sales pitch and description.

The ‘cheated’ info runs:

‘Banyak & Fecks’ ends the day before the first Clearwater Mystery, ‘Deviant Desire‘ begins. It is a story of friendship and platonic love set in Greychurch, the imaginary Whitechapel of the Clearwater world. Extensively researched, readers are taken from the Russian steppe and the Wirral slums to the squalor of the East End in the late 1880s.

[Genre: Historical Bromance]

[‘The Clearwater Mysteries.’ Historical MM Romance, mystery and adventure.]

You don’t need all that on the back of your book, but it’s excellent information to put on Amazon, your blog, publicity, social media etc.

My Blurb Advice Based on My Learning Curve

What you do need is a brief outline of who, what and why. Who is/are the main character(s)? What’s the tension, conflict, interest? Why does the book appeal?

1          Keep it simple. Don’t give in to temptation and outline the entire story.
2          Use power words. (See below.)
3          Think, ‘Who am I writing for/selling to.’
4          Remember, you know who/what you’re talking about – but the potential readers don’t.
5          Don’t be indulgent. The blurb doesn’t show off what a great novelist you are or how cleverly you use words. If anything, it should show off how succinctly you can write, how objective you can be, and how good a salesperson you are.

Here’s an example of a blurb

I am not saying it’s the best example, but this is the blurb for my best-selling novel, ‘Deviant Desire.’ That’s bestselling for me, not as in ‘New York Times bestseller or anything. I’ve put notes in brackets and power words in bold. Power words are things like fear instead of ‘are scared of’, and kill rather than ‘attack.’ Murder or disembowel might have been even better.

Deviant Desire taken apart:

Deviant Desire blurb on Amazon

The Victorian East End (time and place) lives in fear of the Ripper (tension) and his mission to kill rent boys. (Character setting general. This opening line also sets the overall atmosphere and theme.)

Silas Hawkins, nineteen and forging a life on the streets (main character 1) could well be the next victim, (personal danger) but when he meets Archer, his life changes forever. (How? Why? Interest in what comes next.) Young, attractive and rich, Archer is The Viscount Clearwater, a philanthropist, adventurer and homosexual. (Main character 2, conflict between classes, sexy man suggesting ‘Mr Right.’ Homosexual isn’t the best or most powerful word, but ‘gay’ didn’t exist in that context in 1888. Even ‘homosexual’ was only used in the professional medical world, but there you go.)

When Archer suspects the Ripper is killing to lure him to a confrontation, (Why? Who is the Ripper?) he risks his reputation and his life (what’s at stake MC 1) to stop the madman’s murders. (Summary of action plot.) Every man must play his part, including Silas. (What’s at stake, MC 2) Secrets must be kept, lovers must be protected, and for Archer and Silas, it marks the start of their biggest adventure – love. (That lot doesn’t tell us what happens, it suggests what might happen and, hopefully, our imagination is stirred.)

There then follows on Amazon pages only:

A mashup of mystery, romance and adventure, (tells the potential reader if this is their kind of thing) Deviant Desire is set in an imaginary London of 1888. (Imaginary to show we’re not taking a new look at Jack the Ripper, so Ripperologists don’t get offended.) The first book in the on-going The Clearwater Mysteries series (shows there are more, and if you enjoy this one, your investment will pay off) and mixes fact with fiction. The series takes the theme of loyalty and friendship in a world where homosexuality is a crime. (Covers the overall series without going into detail, and says what kind of books follow, though not what stories.)

Insta-love, physical romance, mystery and murder. (A general covering of ‘tropes’ a word I dislike but a necessary evil.)

Some writers also put ‘triggers’ but, to be honest, with power words such as murder, Ripper, homosexual, and physical romance, you’d have to be pretty dim not to pick up on the fact this is going to be a gay murder thriller with some sex in it. ‘Physical romance’ is there because it’s best not to mention ‘sex’ on Amazon pages, they get funny about things like that.

DS Billings Mystery series box set

Another thing you can do on the Amazon page is put quotes from reviews of the book, or others in a series. You’ll see that’s what I’ve done for Deviant Desire’ and others. For ‘Banyak & Fecks’ I am lucky enough to have a quote from Olivier Bosman, author of the DS Billings Victorian Mysteries.

A colourful and enchanting tale. Beautifully written. Marsh does an excellent job of evoking the look and feel of a different age.”

Again, I’m not saying I am the expert on writing blurbs, I am simply passing on my experience. If you want professional advice by trained educators, you can easily find it through an online search.

And now, the signed-book giveaway news.

During December, from 1st to 24th, I am giving everyone the chance to win a signed paperback of ‘Banyak & Fecks.’ Each day, I will put up a quote from one of my books, or from one of my blurbs, and all you have to do is leave a comment on the Facebook post giving the title of the book from which the quote comes.
You don’t have to have read them all, some you will pick up from the blurbs, others will be obvious, and some will be harder.
Follow my Facebook page. Identify the book and put the name of the book in the comments below. You can enter on as many days as you like, even every day if you want.

Each correct answer will be numbered on a spreadsheet. When I get together with my godsons on Christmas Eve, I will ask one of them to randomly pick one number/entry from a hat, and that will be the winner.
I’ll then announce the winner on my Facebook page, and we’ll exchange private messages so you can give me the address to send the book to. (Note: it will take a while to arrive as it will be posted from our little Greek island, but you should get it sometime in January.)

Now, I must get on with setting up the files for ‘Banyak & Fecks.’ Look out for it on Amazon over the next few days, and I look forward to seeing everyone join in with the December giveaway.

Here’s one good, in-depth article about writing book blurbs.

The DS Billings Mystery series by Olivier Bosman, box set, Kindle edition

Interview, One of a Pair, and an update

Interview, One of a Pair, and an update

It’s been a busy week here in my writing world.

Firstly, I was interviewed by Alan Wild for his excellent website that features interviews with writers of gay fiction. This interview gives you some personal background about me, includes some photos of where I live, and starts with a photo of me playing a church organ. If you’ve read my standalone YA romantic mystery, ‘The Blake Inheritance’, you will know that I have a particular interest in church organs. The photo was taken a couple of years ago when I returned to my hometown of New Romney, on the Romney Marshes, UK, and was lucky enough to be invited to play for a service I happened up. It was a bit nerve-wracking as I’d not played for years, but the nice thing was that this was the same instrument I learnt to play on over 40 years previously.

Here’s the link to the Interview with Jackson Marsh

Secondly, the eighth book in the clearwater Mystery series was published yesterday. There is a more detailed post about this novel further down my blog, but, in brief: ‘One of a Pair’ continues the story of Jasper and Billy, sees James Wright deal with his first case as the lead investigator of the agency, and brings in the eccentric Dr Markland to play an important role. You may remember Markland from ‘Deviant Desire’ and later, ‘Unspeakable Acts’ where he fell in love with a certain young lady who turned out to be… Ah, no spoilers allowed, sorry.

Here’s the link to ‘One of a Pair’ which can be found on Amazon around the world

While all that has been going on, I have been writing the prequel to the Clearwater Mystery series, and I’ve titled it ‘Banyak & Fecks.’

Those of you who’ve read the series will know who those two are, but what you won’t know, are the details of how they came to meet in London in 1844, and what they were doing between 1844 and October 1888 when ‘Deviant Desire’ starts. Actually, Fecker’s story begins even earlier, in 1881 in Ukraine when he was 13 (or 15, as no-one really knows his exact age). I’m enjoying the research for this one and have been reading about all kinds of things; the history of Ukraine, circuses in the 1800s, ships, the East End slums, language, Victorian rent boys and prostitution, and several other side matters too. No promises on a release date for this one, but I am aiming for the end of this year. I’ll tell you now, it’s not the same as the others, it’s not even a mystery, but it is a story of an unlikely but more or less instant friendship, and how two young men survived the East End streets in the 1800s.

The Clearwater Companion

My writing desk where I research and make notes. The open book is my leather-bound Clearwater ‘bible’, the floor plan is Clearwater House, and the map on the wall is the GWR rail routes circa 1890.

Chugging along in the background is my idea for, one day, producing a Clearwater Companion, a book of information, details, maybe illustrations if I can afford an artist, and other snippets for anyone who might be interested. This is an ongoing project and one that will take a long time to compete. I don’t know yet when the series will end. It may never do as I am enjoying writing it so much, but now and then, when I am not working, I jot down notes in my ‘Companion’ folder for use later. So far, I’ve only written an outline of Archer, Lord Clearwater, but I thought I would share with you what I have.

Remember, these are only notes.

Archer, Lord Clearwater of Riverside and Larkspur

Born: March 26th 1859, Larkspur Hall, Cornwall, second son of the 18th Viscount Clearwater and Lady Clearwater
Full name: Archer Camoys Riddington

Major life events
1868    Attended Millfield Preparatory School
1872    Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth
1874    Midshipmen
1876    Sub-lieutenant, Royal Naval College, Greenwich
1877    Lieutenant aboard HMS Britannia
1886    Honourable discharge after an injury during the Odessa skirmishes. Elevated to ‘The Honourable’ on the incarceration of his elder brother
1888    July. Elevated to the 19th Viscount Clearwater on the death of his father

Full title: Viscount Clearwater of Riverside and Larkspur, Lord Baradan of Hapsburg-Bran, and Honorary Boyar Musat-Râșnov.

We learn his full title in ‘Fallen Splendour’ when he is called into court to testify.

This is the Shutterstock model who represents Archer on the cover of ‘Deviant Desire.’ The image was bought under license.

Titles
A Viscount is the fourth rank of the British peerage system, coming beneath an Earl but above a Baron. The Clearwater of the title is derived from family land owned in the north of the country. Riverside is the family’s London Borough, and Larkspur, their country seat on Bodmin Moor.

Lord Baradan of Hapsburg-Bran. This is a made-up title, intended to show Archer’s European heritage. The Hapsburg (also spelt Habsburg) was one of the principal sovereign dynasties of Europe from the 15th to the 20th century. Hyphenating it with Bran, in what is now Romania, I wanted to make a link with Transylvania. Bran Castle, near Brasov, is known as ‘Dracula’s Castle’, though it has little or nothing to do with Vlad Tepes, Bram Stoker or his novel.

Honorary Boyar Musat-Râșnov. A boyar was a member of the highest rank of the feudal Bulgarian, Russian, Serbian, Wallachian, Moldavian, and later Romanian and Baltic states aristocracies, second only to the ruling princes from the 10th century to the 17th century. Again, I wanted Archer’s roots to run deep in European history in case that would be of use later in the series. Because the title ‘Boyar’ fell out of use in the 17th century, I made him an ‘honorary.’ Rasnov is a place between Bran and Brasov (all of which I have visited). These are all inherited titles, passed down from father to son over the centuries.

Geroy
Fecker first calls Archer ‘Geroy’ in ‘Twisted Tracks’ after Fecker witnesses Archer’s noble actions towards his friends. In Ukrainian/Russian the word герой translates as hero, worthy or valiant.

Archer and Camoys
Archer’s father (Mathias) was obsessed with the battle of Agincourt (25th October 1415). He named his eldest son Crispin, because he was born on the anniversary of the battle which is also St Crispin’s Day. I had in mind Shakespeare’s Henry V, and in particular, the lines, “… we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” In the series, Crispin tried to kill Archer and therefore shed his brother’s blood, but as Archer builds his ‘crew’ of friends, we come to see them as a band of brothers.

Archer was named after the archers who won the battle of Agincourt, and Thomas de Camoys was the English peer who commanded the left wing of the English army at the battle. It is not a name Archer uses very often!

From my notebook
My notes on Archer include the following jottings.
Philanthropist, youngest member of the House of Lords at 29 (1888)
Brown eyes, stubble by evening, fit, prominent cheekbones. Toned. (Big and hairy ‘down there’.)
Doesn’t believe in class distinctions. Didn’t like his father. Gay, modern, forward-thinking.
5′ 10″, pouting lips, dark lashes.
Last time at the servants’ hall table on 13th birthday.
(Father ailing, Crispin mad, Archer to succeed, recovering from Odessa skirmish of 1886. Father, Mathias, 51, hunting accident (?) Father: 1837 to 1888)
‘Geroy’ by Fecks (honourable)

Have a good week and I will be back next Saturday. Remember, you can always post comments about the blog on my Facebook page, and if you go there, please do give a like and share.

This is a photo of us celebrating our three-year wedding anniversary, 18 years since arriving on Symi, and Neil’s birthday which all happened on the same day, September 8th. Neil’s the one pulling a funny face and wearing a top hat; he’s far more into SteamPunk than I am.