Work In Progress 3.02

Work In Progress 3.02

Week two of the creation of ‘Speaking in Silence’ and I’m afraid I will have to be rather silent on the subject. I said in my last WIP blog that I intended ‘beginning on the book proper in a couple of weeks.’ I still do, and the couple of weeks has now become one week. I intend to start on it on Sunday. Meanwhile, I have been reading about railways, investigating a few other matters I need to know, and inventing scenes in my head.

So, the WIP news this week is that there isn’t any WIP news this week, but I’m looking forward to knuckling down again in a few days. Summer is fast approaching, and that means I’ll be up at my usual summer morning time of 4.30-ish, at the desk by five if not sooner, and will have all morning and, when it’s not too hot, all afternoon to dedicate to the next Larkspur adventure. I’ll be keeping you informed as I progress through it.

The Author’s Bible

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

In the Beginning…

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

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

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

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

Why is Easy

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

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

You will.

How is Another Matter

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

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

Archer’s notes updated over time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Else Should Be in the Bible?

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

Height, Hair & Build (brief character references)

Skills (again, but with more characters)

Archers’ family tree by three generations

Notes about Larkspur Hall

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

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

A rough map of the area around Clearwater House

Extended family tree for The Clearwater Inheritance

Who’s Who at Larkspur Hall, March 1890

The guest list for Archer’s 31st birthday party

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

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

Two Bibles

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

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

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

Revelations

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

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

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

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

Work In Progress 2.14

Seeing Through Shadows – Release

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, you can find Curious Moonlight here.

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing Through Shadows

The Larkspur Mysteries Book Four

I thought it was time I told you a little more about ‘Seeing Through Shadows’, the fourth book in The Larkspur Mysteries series, the series that continues from the highly popular ‘Clearwater Mysteries.’

The previous Larkspur story, ‘Agents of the Truth’ concluded on 31st October, 1890, and ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ is set in January 1891.

However, October 31st was an important date for its main character, an erudite young man of twenty-two called Chester Cadman. As Lord Clearwater was hosting his annual charity ball at Larkspur, and as Dalston Blaze was chasing a potential assassin, Chester Cadman was in London, working for a mapmaker and indulging in one of his favourite pastimes: debunking the spiritual entertainments offered by Mr Maskelyen and Mr Cooke.

These stage productions were popular in Victorian times, and you can find advertisements for such things in the newspaper archives, and elsewhere. Chester was attending one at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, and while there, met another, equally handsome, young man called William Barnes. The following day, Chester’s life changed—but I’m not going to tell you how because I don’t want to give away any spoilers.

The Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, London, was an exhibition hall built in the ancient Egyptian style in 1812, to the designs of Peter Frederick Robinson.

The Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly

Long demolished, this West End venue was home to a museum, art exhibitions, Victorian ‘freak shows’ and magic shows. Victorian magic duo John Nevil Maskelyne (1839-1917) and George Alfred Cooke (1825-1905) hosted a show at the venue for 31 years. It’s been claimed Maskelyne invented the illusion of levitation, as well as the coin-operated toilet lock. [Memoirs of a Metro Girl, a London culture and history blog.] January 1891

When I began ‘Seeing through Shadows’, I had no idea how it was going to unfold. Then, after writing the first chapter, I knew where I was heading, and spent a couple of days at the writing desk, plotting, planning, and inventing a fair amount of history. Along with factual history, I invented 18 Viscounts Clearwater, their birth and death dates, and the year they came to the title. I also had to refine and define the history of Larkspur Abbey, how it was affected by the Dissolution, when it was extended, altered and re-landscaped, and several other historical points. Why? Well, because the novel’s action plot focuses on a recurrence of a historical haunting, and that’s all I can say about that, for now.

Back to that first chapter. When I started it, I didn’t know who my main character was to be. I often do that; I think of a name, age, big event from the past and set that character against a plot device on which to hang a mystery, and decide who is to be his impact character. (An impact character’s role is very simple: they are there to inspire, enable, or somehow make another character change. Usually the other character is the main character or protagonist.) The first paragraph I wrote for ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ came from nowhere, but I knew it was a good place to start, because all good stories start with a railway journey. ‘Shadows’ opens with:

The Cornish Riviera Express en route to Cornwall January 1891

Chester Cadman turned his attention away from the passing scenery and wondered if he hadn’t made another terrible mistake. His travelling companion was a quiet stranger to whom he had handed his wellbeing and future, and he had put his life in the hands of men he knew nothing about. Again.

The Cornish Riviera Express

A Classic Mashup

I guess ‘Shadows’ is one of my classic mashups. Along with a mystery that needs solving, we have a story of developing love, and there are a couple of sexually charged scenes in this novel. Not full-on descriptive scenes as there are in ‘Deviant Desire’ or my Mentor series, but something more subtle and, I hope, imagination fuelling. There is also some humour from our regular cast, Frank Andino ( read his recent interview here) and Fleet, and we meet two new academy men, Henry and Edward, who, I imagine, will come to the fore in a future novel. Dalston and Joe are in the story now and then, too, but they are about to head to London for their new lives, which may well lead into the third series, ‘The Delamere Mysteries’ next year.

Meanwhile, at Larkspur Hall, Thomas Payne becomes our protagonist because Clearwater is away in London dealing with something which will become a Delamere Mystery in the future. Barnaby Nancarrow, the country’s youngest butler, makes an appearance, and some other Hall characters are developed a little more. While all that’s going on, Chester is adjusting to his new life, conflicted about his feelings for someone, desperate to please Clearwater and repay his kindness, and generally turning heads among the academy men.

Seeing Through Shadows’ is one of those stories where, along with the main character, the reader is invited to work out what the hell is going on. Unlike ‘Agents of the Truth’, there is no villain as such, and no-one’s life is in danger. ‘Shadows’ progresses through several twists, and chapters tend to conclude with a ‘What if?’ or an emotional or mysterious cliff hanger. There are also inserts where the mystery is seen from an unusual perspective. Only short sections, but ones which are intended to lend atmosphere and, of course, mystery. These were interesting to write as events are seen from the perspective of an owl, a fox and a cat. I’ll leave you with just such an excerpt. I’ve not yet fully edited this, but here is what I have at the moment. It’s from the end of a chapter later in the story, the night before the ‘great reveal’ when the mystery is explained, and it’s one of the inserts as seen from an owl’s point of view.

Not all was harmonious with the night, however, and the owl ruffled its feathers in a shiver of disquiet. Off to the west, something unrequited was advancing through the fragile air. It was still at a distance, but it was coming from across the moor, beneath the ground, making its steady path towards the hall as it had done before. Unstoppable, it would appear and disappear; it was real, and it was ethereal; it was alive where it lived, and yet it would die if it stayed there. Something that couldn’t be laid to rest until it was understood, its appearance was inevitable.
Nervous, the owl screeched its disapproval, and fell from the battlements, wings spread. The uplift took her high above the sloping tiles and the last of the drifting woodsmoke, the treetops and moorland, and she circled wide and slowly to the Academy House where her interest lay. Passing the sleeping outbuildings, the yards, and windows dark with the hour, she came to one aglow, and landed on the sill.
Within, flames swayed on the last of their wicks, languid as they burned away time. Their faint light withdrew from corners to candles as they died, and drew their cast across carpet, over chairs, through a field of jumbled clothing, to the cliff edge of the bed. Ascending as it faded, the light lasted just long enough for the owl to see the shape of two men, naked, entwined, fulfilled and dreaming.
The ground was laid for the inevitable, and knowing there was nothing she could do but watch, the owl dropped from the window and once again became one with the night.

‘Seeing Through Shadows’ is due for release later this month.

Happy Birthday Lord Clearwater

To celebrate what would have been Lord Clearwater’s 163rd birthday, I have made two books free for two days. ‘Banyak & Fecks’, the Clearwater Mysteries’ prequel, and the first book in the series, ‘Deviant Desire’, are free on Kindle for this weekend only. Click here to check out the series.


Saturday, March 26th, 1859. The Illustrated Times, on its front page, began thus:

The coming congress.

So it seems that the great questions which for months have threatened Europe with war, are to be brought to the test of arbitration, and settled on the principles of common sense.

(The illustration shows ‘The Prince of Wales’s balcony on the Corso, Rome, during the carnival.’)

One hundred and sixty-three years later, the headlines aren’t that dissimilar, which is a shame, although there is less common sense in some areas of the world. Since Archer, Lord Clearwater, was born, there have been other historical events on his birthday, one of which is the birth of author James Collins (aka Jackson Marsh), in 1963. Also of note might be, the birth of Tennessee Williams in 1911, Richard Dawkins in 1941, Diana Ross in 1944, Bangladesh became an independent state in 1971, and (I hate to say it) Vladimir Putin was elected Head of State in 2000. On a happier note, Doctor Who returned to UK television on this day in 2005.

As it is Archer’s 163rd birthday, I thought I might take a look at what he has been through since he came to literary life on March 7th, 2019. Archer is only three years old in book terms, but he has been on, or played a part in, 13 adventures so far, appearing in 10 of the Clearwater Mysteries, and, so far, three of the Larkspur Mysteries. He doesn’t appear in the Clearwater prequel, Banyak & Fecks, other than as a vague reference in a dream Silas has, where he dreams of meeting such a man in a carriage full of money. He will appear in the fourth Larkspur mystery, ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ due out next month, although only briefly, because he is mainly away in London, dealing with events which are taking place in ‘The Delamere Mysteries.’ This is an idea I have for a second spin-off from the Clearwater Mysteries, and which I hope to write next year.

Adventures Archer has been involved in during his literary life so far.

As I was saying… His first claim to fame was unmasking the East End Ripper, the villain, based on Jack the Ripper, who started the series off in Deviant Desire. Since then, he has faced many perils, including: Fighting on a dockside gantry and falling into the Thames. Battling a villain on the roof of a speeding steam train heading for disaster. Racing across the country in a blizzard to rescue two kidnap victims. Appearing in court in full regalia to defend his innocent friends. Confronting other villains, falling into a mineshaft, and sword fighting his way out of an assassination.

Archer is quite an active chap, both in and out of the bedroom. In 1877, he became a lieutenant on The Britannia, where he served under his brother, Crispin, during conflicts on the Black Sea.

HMS Brittania entering Portsmouth UK

Archer was honourably discharged from the navy in 1886 following a near-fatal injury inflicted by his own brother. When Crispin was declared incurably insane, the 18th viscount reluctantly gave into Lady Emily’s wishes and arranged for Archer to succeed the title on his death. His naval training and upbringing have served him well, but he has natural talents too. These have seen him through love, laughter and a lot of laughs, while leaving him loyal, lordly and loving. I couldn’t think of anymore ‘L’ words to alliterate his character, only to add that he’s also rather lush.

He is handsome, debonair, and extremely well endowed, both financially and… elsewhere. In my writer’s imagination, Archer started off as a classic young, good-looking, wealthy aristocrat who was, in a way, a reluctant hero. His brother, Crispin, should have taken the title and all that goes with it, but Crispin was a psychopath and is already locked up when the stories start. Archer suffered much in his childhood because of Crispin, but also because of his father, who thought he was soft and unmanly, treated him appallingly both physically and emotionally, and made his early life as difficult as hell. However, Archer managed to live through all that, and when he was elevated to the title in 1888 (two months before the stories start), he did so with resolve.

Archer is, as we would say, gay, and has known it since an early age. His first sexual awakenings happened with Tommy Payne, then a hall boy at both Larkspur Hall and Clearwater House. Later, Tommy became Thomas, the footman, and when Archer took the title, he elevated him to the role of butler, where he became Mr Payne.

Through the series, Archer and Thomas’ love for each other bubbles beneath the surface, and rolls in waves between physical desire and platonic love. Because of their stations in life, there is no chance of a physical relationship, however, not even when Archer makes Thomas his steward, and Thomas becomes Tom. A steward is the highest rank Archer can give him to make him a gentleman, without Thomas leaving to become a man of business, and that’s something Thomas would never do. Tom and Archer will be together in an endless bromance until they die. Meanwhile, when Archer is away from Larkspur, Tom more or less takes his role, and some of the staff have commented privately that Tom is the new Lady Clearwater.

Archer has had lovers, though, and it was being discovered with one while in the navy that led to Crispin’s attempt to murder him. But, Simon Harrington died, leaving Archer to face civilian life and the viscountcy alone. Thus, he put his energies into his philanthropic endeavours, and because he understood what it was like to crave a life with ‘men of a similar heart’, and not be allowed one, he set about creating the Clearwater Foundation. In other words, Archer was gay, being gay was illegal in those days, and he wanted to help other gay men to exist as themselves. He began this with the Cheap Street Mission for rent boys, and while setting that up, wanted to interview one or two renters to get their thoughts and understand their needs. Enter Silas Hawkins. The two meet, and the earth moves. It’s love at first sight, and although the river of true love hasn’t run smoothly, Archer and Silas are still together to this day in 1891, which is where we are currently at in the Clearwater world.

Silas Hawkins, street-rat and renter

Archer has a knack for knowing when another man is ‘of a similar heart.’ In other words, he’s got good gaydar, and that’s why his house is gradually filling up with gay staff. It’s not because he lusts after them, because he doesn’t (although I think he harbours a secret desire to experience what gave the straight Ukrainian, Andrej, his nickname ‘Fecker’, but then, don’t we all?). Archer simply likes to help people, particularly, but not exclusively, young gay men. Hence, he opened the Larkspur Academy for young, gifted, and, probably, gay men from underprivileged backgrounds.

Larkspur Hall Inspiration

By the time he did this, early in 1890, he had gathered around him a team of loyal and good friends, elevating each one of them to a better position in life, as he himself was elevated to viscount. Thomas we know about (hall boy to steward). From the slums of the Wiral to the back alleys of Greychurch, Silas goes on to become his own man of business. James Wright enters the series as a messenger, becomes household staff, a valet and later has his own private company. Andrej, a Ukrainian refugee, goes from war to circus, renting, groom to horse master. Lucy, from maid to head cook. Sally, from chambermaid to the youngest housekeeper of a grand house in the country. Barnaby Nancarrow from footman to butler, other stable lads at Larkspur become household staff or are promoted, and gradually, the young take the places of older staff, as Archer rids his life of his father’s legacy, and makes his land, estates, properties and business his own.

Currently, as I mentioned, he is in London working on some cases that I’ve not even thought of yet, and while he is there, the Larkspur Academy is about to welcome its next man, Chester Cadman. You will be able to read ‘Seeing through Shadows’ soon. If you will excuse me, I shall return to working on the new novel while wishing Archer a happy birthday, and looking forward to whatever he is going to be doing next.

Things That go Bump in the Research

Hello everyone, and welcome to my regular Saturday update. Today, I want to talk about phantasmagoria, Pepper’s ghost, and various things supernatural. Why? Because the fourth book in the Larkspur Mystery series is built around a ghost story, and when I’ve not been writing it, I have been researching all things ghostly.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, it’s an undeniable fact that belief in ghosts exists in just about all cultures. The ghost story as we know it can be traced back to Sir Walter Scott and his 1824 novel, ‘Wandering Willie’s Tale’, which is not as naughty as it might sound to those, like me, inclined to innuendo. We’re talking ghost rather than horror; you can mark the beginning of the horror genre with ‘The Castle of Otranto’ (1765) by Horace Walpole, but that’s a debate for another day.

Following Willie’s wanderings, we can cite Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ as a classic ghost story, and since the beginnings of the Victorian ghost novel, other writers have leapt on the spectral bandwagon including M.R. James, Violet Hunt, Henry James and the Irish writer, Sheridan Le Fanu.

The Larkspur Ghost: A Curious Development

Ages ago, before even the Clearwater Mysteries was born, I tried my hand at writing a contemporary paranormal MM romance novel, ‘Curious Moonlight.’ This received mixed reviews, and understandably so, because people who read the micro-niche of contemporary paranormal MM romance have specific rules, and I, the upstart, didn’t keep to them.

My novel was more about two men, one gay, one curious, trying to fall in love and being thwarted by, among other things, a hangover spirit from an old Cornish myth. What ‘Moonlight’ did do, though, was make me think of a sequel. In it, my two main characters were invited to a rambling country house to investigate the appearance of a ghost. The house was called Blackwood Abbey, the ghost was said to be that of a serving girl murdered for her romance with a monk in 1500-and-something, and the dead girl was still haunting the manor, which couldn’t be sold until the mystery was solved. And so it rambled on until I ran out of ectoplasm, and shelved the idea.

I am glad I did, because what I was trying to write was beyond me. It did, however, lead to bigger and better things. The idea of a mystery led to The Clearwater Mysteries, Blackwood Abbey led to the creation of Larkspur Hall (and Jasper Blackwood, I guess), and the two-word title led to others, such as Deviant Desire, Twisted Tracks and Unspeakable Acts. Between ‘Moonlight’ and Larkspur Four, I have written about fifteen better novels, and I now know what I am doing.

Except I don’t. Or I didn’t when I sat down to tackle the subject of all things ghostly in Victorian times, and in particular, the story of the Larkspur Ghost.

Chester Cadman

Larkspur Four is currently titled ‘Chester Cadman’ because that’s the name of the lead character, and a better title has not yet fallen into place. Don’t worry. I am not going to give away any spoilers.

The story was inspired by an advertisement in a London paper of 1981 which advertised Mr Maskelyen’s premier magical entertainment at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. The entertainment promised apparitions, bodies floating over the audience, and other ghostly occurrences every day promptly at three and every evening at eight (excepting Mondays). Such entertainments were popular in Victorian society, and the Egyptian Hall quickly became ‘England’s Home of Mystery.’ An advertising poster of the time promises, ‘Labial, Fanfare, Zoe & Psycho’ as part of Maskelyne & Cooke’s entertainment, but I am not sure I want to look into those attraction at this moment.

In my story, Chester (not his real name) fell from grace after paying a visit to Mr Maskelyen’s Entertainment, and afterwards, accepting an invitation to participate in a séance. Chester doesn’t believe in ghosts, you see, and is a debunker of ghost stories, except he can’t be, because the word ‘debunk’ didn’t exist until the next century, but you get the picture.

When the story starts, he is on his way to Larkspur Hall, where Archer (Lord Clearwater) and his steward/best friend, Tom, are waiting for him. Tom is reading a novel by the above mentioned Le Fanu in preparation for a discussion about ghosts.

Chester is invited to join the Larkspur Academy, which he does, and his first task is to ‘debunk’ the mystery of the Larkspur Ghost. Along the way, he encounters various personal problems, love, lust and lingering doubt, and learns much about the darker history of Larkspur Hall and the Clearwater viscounts. I can’t tell you any more than that because I’ve not written it yet, but I am up to 70,000 words. (You can follow its progress on my Work In Progress blogs on Wednesdays.)

Phantasmagoria and Pepper

One of the things I am researching for the background of this novel, to add authenticity and detail, is phantasmagoria. I can’t define it any better than this description I found in a paper by Japanese academic Yurie NAKANE:

Phantasmagoria is an early projection show using an optical instrument called a magic lantern. Brought to Britain from France in 1801, it amused spectators by summoning the spirits of absent people, including both the dead and the living. [Link to the full article free download.]

It didn’t, of course. I mean, it did, but not really. What this theatrical device did was project an image of a person, or an object, a skeleton from the closet or something else better left forgotten, onto a screen, onto mist or a sheet of glass. The effect was to make the ghostly image appear among real people and furniture, thereby giving the appearance of an apparition before our very eyes.

Phantasmagoria began way before Chester Cadman was born at sea. Yurie Nakane tells us, Phantasmagoria in Paris was conducted by Philidor in 1792 for the first time. And later in her paper, In October, 1801, Paul Philidor brought phantasmagoria to Britain and started to give performances there.

The stage trick of phantasmagoria, went through a few developments, one of which was ‘Dircksian phantasmagoria’ in the mid-19th century, but Henry Dircks’ confabulations required a special auditorium be built, and could only be seen by a few spectators in a purpose-built gallery during daylight. (You’d never get funding these days.) However, he worked with a chap called John Henry Pepper, and that led to the creation of a stage trick called Pepper’s Ghost.

This illusion requires two rooms; the stage on which is a visible but camouflaged sheet of glass, and a ‘blue’ room out of sight. The figure in the blue room is simply reflected in the glass, and hey presto! We have a moving, talking apparition. That technique is still used in magic acts, theatre, theme parks and film studios today.

I suppose the moral is, don’t take your Pepper with a pinch of salt.

You can find more on Phantasmagoria in an excellent article by Sandra Gulland on her website, including images. [Link is here.]

Back to the story

In my novel, phantasmagoria and Pepper’s Ghost get only a passing mention, yet I still took the time to check them out, because they are things Chester Cadman would have known about. He also has things to say about hypnotism, or mesmerism, spiritualism and seances, none of which have much impact on the story. Discovering such detail to give your character a little more depth is called research, and has taken up most of my week.

As has writing, and it was while writing the other morning that I had something of a supernatural experience. Before I tell you what it was, you should know that it was daylight, I was at the computer I am at now, totally sober and writing a description of my character, Fleet, comedically blundering about with his eyes closed because he wanted to know what it was like to be blind. I wasn’t writing anything creepy at all. Neil was in the kitchen preparing lunch, I was alone, and my office door was closed (it opens to the outside and it was six degrees, sunny, but cold).

I jolted in shock, my heartbeat shot up, skin went cold and I clutched my pearls, exclaiming, ‘Oh, must you!’ as you do when you’re thinking of something else, and open a door to find your husband unexpectedly on the other side. Except, the dark shape that had crept into the corner of my left eye, covering the height of the bookcase, and moving towards the window, was no longer there. I was left with that aftershock of shock, a little weak kneed, and looking over my shoulder. I politely asked the whatever not to do that again while I was in the room, but finished writing to go and have lunch, knowing the whatever hadn’t meant to take me by surprise.

Strange, but true, and also useful. I now know what it’s like to unexpectedly see a ghostly form, or to think you did, and the experience will inform my writing. Accidental research. Can’t beat it.

Before I go…

Before I go, I want to tell you that I will be doing an ‘author takeover’ on a Facebook group tomorrow from 6 pm Greek time (4 pm GMT). I will be at the MM Fiction Addiction Café chatting about ME and giving away an e-copy of ‘Guardians of the Poor’ (or another of my novels if you already have that one). I will be talking more about the Larkspur Mysteries, and answering questions, so sign up (free, of course) and pop into the cafe if you want to know more.

I’ll be here on Wednesday with my Work In Progress blog to update you more about Chester Cadman, Larkspur Mysteries book four.

Jackson

Narrating as the Villain

Should you write from the villain’s point of view?

That’s a question I asked myself when I was writing ‘Agents of the Truth’, and although I’d written from a villain’s point of view before, this time, doing so brought up a tricky question. There are no story/plot/twist spoilers in this post, and I refer to the villain as ‘he’ for ease of reading/writing. It might be a she or a they. You will only find out when you read the book.

Narrating From the Villain’s Pont Of View

Mythcreants.com have a very useful article on when to narrate a villain’s point of view which brings up some very good points and considerations on this subject. For example, the author of the post first asks why?

Why put the reader in the mind of the baddy? On the plus side, it’s a way to bring in more of a threat, you can explain to the reader why the villain is doing what he/she is doing, and you can show the reader what is going on ‘off stage’ while the protagonist is going about his business.

There are, however, pitfalls to doing this, and writing as the bad guy needs to be handled carefully. The advice is not to make him over the top, don’t make him too demented or else he won’t be believable, don’t make him ‘cold’ or cliché, and don’t give too much away. Don’t make him too sympathetic.

I think back to my favourite villain of all time, Dracula. In Bram Stoker’s masterpiece, we never hear from his point of view except when he is talking as reported by someone else; we never read his diaries or journals as we do with the other main characters, and yet we know a) what he is up to, b) what he plans to do, and c) how evil he is.

Writing from a villain’s point of view (POV) can be a very useful tool for an author. It can do several things.

1          Put the reader in the baddy’s mind and explain motivation

2          Build tension and increase the threat

3          Make your reader more sympathetic to the bad guy, thereby making the character more real and believable.

4          Explain conflict backstory

But, there is also a danger that being with the villain for a while can move the story away from the hero’s journey, give too much away, distract from the plot, and slow things down. So, all villain POV scenes must be handled with care.

How I Write From the Villain’s Point of View

The first time I put myself and my reader into the mind of the anti-hero was in ‘Deviant Desire’, and even back then, I knew not to give too much away. I described someone taking opium and plotting… something, I wrote of his hatred and his motivation, and I set the scene in a dark, dismal place physically to reflect the killer’s frame of mind emotionally. I didn’t, however, give away his name or too many of his intentions. To have done so would have spoilt the story for the reader and ruined the most important twist.

Three years and 14 books later, I wrote a different villain into ‘Agents of the Truth’, and I kept to my rules. We meet the villain in a dark and unpleasant place (so we associate him with darkness in the classic good Vs evil style), we hear him talking to himself, and we learn what has driven him to his course of action. We also, perhaps, feel a little sorry for him, and I think making your villain sympathetic to a point is not a bad thing. We’ve all been driven to do bad things, some worse than others, and it’s good to challenge your reader with the thoughts, ‘What if it was me? What would drive me to do this? What happened to him/her to make them do it? That could have been me.’ It makes a connection between reader and character, and that, I hope, makes the bad guy more realistic and thus, more of a threat.

By the time we meet the evil one in ‘Agents’, we think we know who he is – even so, I didn’t mention his name, thereby leaving the reader a little room for doubt. What I did do, though, was make it clear what the villain was planning. Not in great detail, but in just enough so we knew more than the main characters. Apart from the obvious, my villain has a flaw; indecision. We think we know what he is going to do, but we don’t know to whom, and thus, the anti-hero’s indecision helps build tension.

As the story progresses, we discover the when and where of the danger, even though the hero doesn’t, and again, this helps build tension as we drive towards the climax.

Knowing More Than the Hero

There is a technical term for this, and I just went to my stock of screenplay writing books to look up the phrase, only to find I couldn’t find it. It’s one of those things you think ‘I’ll remember that’ and never do, but if you read Aronson’s ‘The 21st Century Screenplay’, or McKee’s ‘Story’, you will eventually find it. It’s a film technique where the viewer gets to see something the protagonist doesn’t, so we know something more than he does. (‘Elevating the viewer’ or something similar.)

How many times have you watched a film and wanted to say, ‘Don’t do it!’ because the obvious outcome has been set up and you know what’s coming? Well, that’s called… the something I can’t remember, but you know what I mean. It’s a kind of foreshadowing, but one that’s specific to the relationship between hero, anti-hero and viewer or reader. By using this technique, you are elevating the reader’s knowledge above that of the hero, and used well, that can be a great way to heighten tension.

What you can also do is mislead your reader by making them think the villain is going to do X, when in fact, they end up doing Y. That will give you a twist, but that twist has to be logical and foreshadowed. It’s the point in a story when you know something bad or twisty is on its way and you prepare by clutching the sofa cushions, or drawing the blanket up to your eyes in readiness, and then… Oh! I didn’t see that coming. Then you think, Actually, I did, but the clues to it were subtly hidden behind the obvious. If they weren’t, then your reaction is likely to be, What a load of rubbish, because you have been misled for the sake of it.

I don’t mislead my readers, but I might misdirect them on the path to a more fulfilling surprise, and letting them into the villain’s mind can help do this.

My point here is that it’s fine to tell you reader things the hero doesn’t know, but don’t go too far and spoil the twist.

Adding Depth to Your Storytelling Via the Villain

Let me take you back to my English A Level class, one afternoon in the late spring of 1981. Mrs Purvis is taking us through Forster’s ‘A Passage to India’, and we are examining a passage set on the polo field in Chandrapore, India in the 1920s.

Forster describes the ball being knocked about on the polo field, the British men charging about on horses, the grass on which they play, and the field running into the distance where it meets the (mainly Indian) spectators, because the British Raj folk are in the better-equipped tents. From there, the description takes us beyond the fields to the foothills and thence, to the mountains rising above, and above even them, the sky, until the view reaches its zenith with the sun.

‘Do you see how Forester was making us consider the levels of society?’ Mrs Purvis asks. ‘He is showing us the strata of the Raj, and the caste system. The lower caste being the field trampled underfoot, the class divisions above it, the mountains as the rising hierarchy of the Raj, and behind it, the sky and an even greater power, God.’

‘Miss?’ A rather bored eighteen-year-old raises his hand. ‘Ain’t he just talking about a game of polo?’

(I was more interested in the gay subtext of the novel, the closest thing you could get to MM romance in my youth after ‘Maurice.’)

What’s That Got to do With Writing Your villain?

Symbolism, dear boy! As Mrs Purvis might have proclaimed.

Symbolism is a great tool when writing any kind of fiction, and we can use it like Forster — who may well have consciously written his layered scene to symbolise the caste system in India in the 1920s, but who, I suspect, did it without thinking because he was that good.

I remember that English lesson well (there was something to do with the servant, Aziz, putting a stud into Mr Fielding’s collar that represented repressed homosexual desire, or… whatever), and it came back to me when writing ‘Agents of the Truth.’

There is a point in the novel when the reader knows more than the hero, and there’s a point a little way after that when the hero knows as much as us, and we are set up for the climax. We still don’t know the who, but we know the where and when, and so does our hero, but he is delayed. (Another useful tension-building device.) The villain, however, is not delayed and gets a head start.

At this point, I could have just written ‘He got on a train’, but I wanted to add another tension building device, albeit a more subtle one, and I wanted to be more literary. So, I wrote the following passage and, I have to tell you, I didn’t realise what I’d done until later when I reread the entire chapter.

Here’s an excerpt from ‘Agents of the Truth.’ As screenplay writers would say, it marks the entry to Act Four of the story, when everything has been set up, we know what’s coming but not how it’s going to play out. We’ve just had the ‘point of no return’ scene, the music has changed, and we’re off into the climax, sofa cushions at the ready.

‘Yeah, but, Miss, it’s just a rat and a cat, ain’t it?’

‘No, dear boy, it is symbolism reflecting the villain’s intensions.’

And, it only works because we have spent some time in the mind of our villain and narrated from the villain’s point of view.

Agents of the Truth is the third novel in The Larkspur Mysteries, and the stories are best read in order.

The Larkspur Mysteries follow on from The Clearwater Mysteries series. Both feature gay main characters, and are set at a time when homosexuality was illegal. They are a combination of MM/romance, mystery and bromance, and are inspired by historical fact.

Book Four in the series is currently in the typewriter, and you can read about its progress on my Work In Progress blog here every Wednesday.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09CNXGHV3?binding=kindle_edition&ref=dbs_dp_rwt_sb_pc_tukn

Agents of The Truth and ‘How I upload to Amazon’

The exciting news today is that the third Larkspur mystery, ‘Agents of the Truth’ is now available on Amazon. As I write, the Kindle version can be found here, and in Kindle Unlimited, and the paperback should be live any moment now.

Uploading to Amazon

I am often asked about the process, not just of how I write my novels, but how I publish them. So, today, I thought I would let you in on my system. As usual, this is how I do it, and other authors have their own ways of going about things. My version isn’t necessarily right for you, but it works for me. Here it is in stages.

One. Write the Book.

That’s the part that takes the time. ‘Agents’ took me just over three months from start to finish, but I am able to write full time; sometimes for other people, mostly, though, for myself. There are other blog posts such as this one which you can find with a search which tell you about my writing process, but in a nutshell it’s: draft one, draft two for consistency and repetition, style and ‘saying it better’, draft three for grammatical accuracy, draft four for finality. My husband reads draft one for consistency, knowing I will improve the writing, and I take on board what he says. Meanwhile, I contact Andjela, my cover designer, and she works up a cover for the Kindle version. After draft four, I send the manuscript to be proofread, and while that is going on, I begin work on the Amazon process. While that’s happening, I advise Andjela of the final page count so she can make the full cover. I don’t have the finished PDF print file by then, but I can make an educated guess of the final page count from the word length of the final MS and comparing it with previously published books.

With the MS back from proofing, I then have another read to agree the proofs, and make any minor changes that might have been niggling me between times. I have usually started on the next book by then but put that aside while I deal with the Amazon things.

Preparing to Upload to Amazon

The first thing I do, after logging into my KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) dashboard, is ‘create a new eBook.’ All I can do at this stage is enter the title, the series information, the author’s name and the blurb (which I can change when it comes back from proofing if necessary). I also put in keywords and select the two categories, in the case of Clearwater and Larkspur, that’s Gay and Historical.
On the next page, I can’t do anything about uploading the internal file or the cover as I don’t have them by then, though sometimes, I can upload the Kindle cover. With Kindle, I then press ‘save as draft’and turn to the print version. The info I’ve added is already there, but not the cover. However, I opt for an Amazon ISBN because I only sell my novels through Amazon and KU, and I need that ISBN for the front matter.

Front and Backmatter

The frontmatter of a book is made up of the first few pages. The publishing disclaimer and copyright claim etc., and in there, I need to put the ISBN number I’ve just had created. I also list those who have contributed to the book; the proof-reader, cover designer, illustrator and layout company. More about that in a moment. I basically take the front matter from the previous book, make sure I change the title, date and ISBN, and add to the list of ‘also by Jackson Marsh.’

The backmatter consists of author’s notes and a list of my titles with a little more info, and, for the Kindle version, direct links to where the books can be found.

Front and backmatter are two sperate Word doc files.

Formatting a Book for Amazon

I used to do the internal layout myself, using Adobe InDesign. Not being a graphic designer, this was something of a learning curve, and not a process I enjoyed. Since Clearwater nine, ‘Negative Exposure’, however, I have used Mongoose Author Servies at Other Worlds Ink.

This process costs me an extra $60.00, but it’s more that worth it. I contact the guys in advance and warn them I have a layout job coming up, and when I am happy with the proofs of all printed matter, gather them into one ‘final files’ folder. Other Worlds Ink have a list of requirements, and I go through them for each book, to make sure I communicate to them what I want them to know and how I want the internals to look. They now have a template for me, so it’s an easy task both ways. Within a couple of days, I have the PDF of the print version sent back to me, and I can go through it to pick up anything that we want to change. I.e., if there’s a stray line at the top of an otherwise blank page. Mind you, they use Velum to create the internals, and that programme automatically sorts out most oddities.

Once I’m happy with the print version, I agree it, and they send me seven other files including the Kindle, ePub and Kobo – not that I use any of the others, but sometimes, I’ll give a book away for free and some readers prefer those other formats.

And Back to the Amazon Upload

So, now I have all files, including the full, wrap-around cover from Andjela, so the task ahead is easy. I simply upload the interna Kindle file via KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), and when that’s done, I set the price. Then comes the nerve-wracking bit where you have to press ‘I am ready to publish my book,’ but because OWI have done the layout, I know I’ve got nothing to worry about.

You may, once you’ve uploaded your internal file, get a message saying Amazon have found spelling mistakes, and you’re able to check these and the layout before you publish. My ‘spelling errors’ are usually unusual names or slang/dialect I have used along the way, but I still check them and ensure the book looks good in the Kindle, phone and table viewer.

Then, with the Kindle under review, I turn to the print version and do the same thing: upload the full cover and the internal file, both in PDF format. Again, you can check the layout and look before you proceed to pricing and publishing.

That’s it, really. Amazon say it can take 72 hours before the book goes live, but the ‘Agents’ Kindle version went live within two hours of me hitting ‘publish.’ The print version usually takes longer, but for me, no more than two days. Then, you can see all the links to the various Amazon stores where it’s available, and simply copy them to wherever you want them.

And After Amazon?

My next task, which I must see to today, is to list my latest book with my usual services. I use Queer Romance Ink as a listings place, because they do all kinds of wonderful things like interviews, giveaways, newsletters and features.

All Author is another where I have a dedicated Jackson Marsh page and listings.

I also have to update my Amazon Author Page and make sure the new book is listed there. I do this once both versions are available to make sure they both get listed.

I don’t know how it works with Goodreads, but somehow, my books find their way to an author page there too. I tend not to use Goodreads much.

Then? Well, then I hand things over to my PA Jenine and she organises me to put up posts of Facebook and in various groups to get the publicity machine rolling.

It’s not as hard as your think to publish on Amazon. I’ve been doing it for several years now it gets easier each time. I still have a checklist though, and read the terms, conditions and instructions in case they have changed. Go slowly, but if you do get into trouble, their author services help department are responsive and quick, very helpful and there to assist.

And now… Now I must return to chapter seven of Larkspur Four. Check Wednesday’s Work In Progress blog for my next update.

Work In Progress 2.2

While ‘Agents of the Truth’ is being formatted ahead of its release this weekend, I have started on book four of The Larkspur Mysteries series.

Larkspur Notes

So far, I have an outline, and have reached chapter five.

As usual with my first drafts, I am ploughing through, telling myself a story, and making lots of things up as I go along. While doing this, I am making notes to remind myself to come back to particular points later, so I don’t forget something vital, inventing a couple of new main characters, wondering where I am going, and reinventing history.

I have an idea that a ghost story will be involved; or rather, a myth about a ghost at Larkspur Hall. The ancient abbey, the church ruins, mesmerists and seances will all come into it, because mesmerists and the supernatural were popular pastimes in Victorian times, and I am researching that area as much as I can for authenticity.

You are getting sleeepppyyyy

Book four starts a couple of months after ‘Agents of the Truth’ ends, and where ‘Agents’ completes a trilogy within the series, book four (untitled) may end up being a standalone mystery with a new character who will become very important later in the series finale – whenever that might be.

So, that’s where I am. Sitting at my writing station with my notes open on my writing desk, flicking between the National Newspaper Archives for articles on mesmerists from the early 1890s, and with a copy of Gilda O’Neill’s ‘The Good Old Days’ by my side. (There is a chapter on tricksters that includes mesmerists which is proving very handy.) I shall get on with it now, and be back with you on Saturday when I hope to have the links for where you can buy and download ‘Agents of the Truth.’

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09CNXGHV3?binding=kindle_edition&ref=dbs_dp_rwt_sb_pc_tukn

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.