Clearwater: The Cornish Connection.

Clearwater: The Cornish Connection.

The Clearwater Mysteries open in London’s East End in 1888, and for the first three books, the action centres around Clearwater House in the west of the city. We don’t get to Cornwall until the end of book four, ‘Fallen Splendour,’ and even then, it is only a fleeting visit. Clearwater’s country home, Larkspur Hall, begins to come to life in book five, ‘Bitter Bloodline’, and is one of the main settings for book ten, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’ It is, of course, also the star of the new Larkspur Academy series.

But where and what is Larkspur Hall, and where did it come from?

Larkspur Hall is a fictitious stately home in Cornwall, and a question I am often asked is…

Why Cornwall?

My mother moved from Kent to Cornwall in the 1980s, and I made my first visit there when I was about 20. I looked up where I was going and what I could expect, using books in those days, and asked others who had been there what they thought of the place. I was told to expect impressive cliffs, wild countryside, a dramatic coastline and superb, open vistas dotted with ancient monoliths and settlements.

I arrived at night on the train from Paddington, in itself, a romantic journey, and was taken to a remote farmhouse where my mother was living while she and my step-dad renovated a Wesleyan chapel they were converting into a home. It was dark, of course, but the following morning, I was up early to throw back the curtains and catch my first sight of the promised wild and inspiring countryside… and saw nothing but fog for two days.

 

Crows-an-Wra

Ah well, that was still romantically mysterious enough for me, and when the weather improved, it didn’t take long before I was exploring Penwith by bicycle and falling in love with the county. Penwith is the very last part of the last county in England, home to Land’s End and locations with enigmatic names such as Zennor, Kelynack, and Crows-an-wra where my mother’s chapel was/is. It is also where you find Penzance, of the pirates’ fame, but let’s not bring Gilbert and Sullivan into this.

I have returned to Cornwall many times over the years. My husband and I took the children there one Christmas and stayed in a remote farmhouse on the moors near the Nine Maidens stone circle. On another visit one night, my antique Ford Escort delivered me to a guesthouse somewhere equally as remote just as the radiator blew up, leaving me somewhat stranded. The upside of this was an uninterrupted and unpolluted night sky. I have never seen so many stars. They seemed so close, I could have lit a cigar from them.

These days, living in Greece, I don’t have the chance to visit Cornwall very often, except in my imagination, and that’s a very tenuous link to the next question: Where and what is Larkspur Hall?

Larkspur Hall  

The name came from my imagination while I was writing book two, ‘Twisted Tracks.’ I just checked the original publication and noted, with alarm, that I had written, ‘Larkspur is Lord Clearwater’s country house two miles north of London.’ Cornwall is actually over 200 miles from London by car, and Bodmin, where Larkspur is now situated, is 259 miles from Knightsbridge and Clearwater House. I re-released ‘Twisted Tracks’ in 2020 and made the change. Larkspur is now described as being ‘miles west of the city’, and I left it vague because, then, I wasn’t then sure exactly where I was going to place it.

I can’t remember when I decided to put Larkspur on the edge of Bodmin Moor. I think it was while creating ‘Fallen Splendour’, but I chose the location for several reasons.

  1. It is remote, which is helpful when I want seclusion and a sense of being cut off from the world. Very useful for when we have an assassin stalking the grounds.
  2. The distance is handy for when we have a race against time. In the late 1880s, it would have taken up to 12 hours to reach Larkspur from London by train. When the race to stop a murder is on, changing lines, the weather and conflicting timetables all play a part in delaying the hero and heightening the tension.
  3. Bodmin Moor is wild, subject to rough weather, has an ancient history and is romantic. Moors have always been popular with romantic writers (Egdon Heath for Hardy, the Yorkshire Moors for Emily Brontë), because of their combination of loneliness, mystery and tradition.
  4. I like Cornwall. Simple.

    A beautiful and dramatic sunrise over Bodmin Moor

Is Larkspur Hall based on a real property?

Yes and no. I based it on several. When you read the Clearwater Mysteries, you will find characters mention how the Hall has been added to over the years, how it started life as an abbey, has a square tower, church-like pillars in the grand hall, and what I call a horseshoe staircase, which is actually an imperial staircase. (See photo, for the shape. At Larkspur, the stairs and balustrades are stone.)

An imperial staircase (sometimes erroneously known as a “double staircase”) is the name given to a staircase with divided flights. Usually, the first flight rises to a half-landing and then divides into two symmetrical flights both rising with an equal number of steps and turns to the next floor. [Wikipedia.]

This is a central point for a few action scenes in the Clearwater and Larkspur Mysteries, and appeals to my sense of the theatrical. As does the tower, the ruined church in the grounds, and the maze of servants’ passages. Larkspur is said to have 16 bedrooms, but they are actually suites, so include a sitting room, dressing room and bathroom. Thanks to Archer, the Hall is now powered by electricity and the servants’ rooms all have gas heaters and hot and cold running water.

The inspiration for the outside of the Hall came from several places. Lanhydrock House is one. Although Larkspur is taller and doesn’t have the protruding wings of Lanhydrock, the gatehouse is similar. (See photo.) You could also look at Highclare Castle where Downton Abbey is filmed, but if you do, only look at the front, and move its main tower from behind the building and stick it on the end of the west wing.

By the way, Lanhydrock is just south of Bodmin, and about six miles away from Larkspur.

There is an interpretation of Larkspur Hall on the cover of ‘Bitter Bloodline.’

 

 

 

I have an Ordnance Survey map of Bodmin Moor, and on it, I have marked the Larkspur estate. If you wanted to look up the estate boundary (on OS Explorer map 109), you would find it like this: The northern boundary abuts the village of Waterloo, and runs east to Medland, drops south from there to Fore Downs, west from there to Trago and beyond, and runs northwards back to Waterloo via Trewardale and Trewint. It takes in all of what is now the military land marked ‘danger area’, the A30 doesn’t exist, and I have wiped out several villages and hamlets. Sorry about that. The Hall would be situated at Pounds Conce, and Larkspur Village would be roughly where Millpool is, but it’s all made up. Having said that, some places mentioned in the Clearwater and Larkspur Mysteries are real. Colvannick and the standing stones, Pengelly Farm, Blisland and many of the ancient sites mentioned in the books.

Which is another segue into…

Standing Stones. Fact or Fiction?

Featuring The Colvannick Stone Row

Fact: There are hundreds of ancient sites to visit in Cornwall, including the Colvannick Stone Row, the centre of the first two Larkspur Mysteries. Stone circles, monoliths, ancient settlements, barrows, cairns and fogous can be found almost anywhere in the county, and Bodmin Moor has its fair share. These were the inspiration for the mystery, ‘Keepers of the Past’, where most of what you read is based on existing monuments, history and fact. Most of, note, not all. To find out more, you can read the author’s notes at the back of the book. In the new series, the Larkspur Mysteries, I am putting these notes to give the reader some insight into how I mix fact and fiction. That is something I have been doing since Silas first appeared in ‘Deviant Desire’ looking through the gutters of Greychurch (Whitechapel), while Archer was at home in North Riverside (Knightsbridge), and Fecker was working at the docks in Limedock (Limehouse).

In the up-coming book three, ‘Agents of the Truth’, the characters visit the British Museum Reading Room, the Inns of Court, Newgate and Wormwood Scrubbs prisons, all real and described as they were in 1890. They also visit the Cheap Street Mission (fictional), and meet real one-day famous archaeologists, including Howard Carter, then aged 16. They also get to explore Larkspur Hall and other parts of Cornwall, as will you when you read ‘Agents of the Truth’, due out in February.

The Clearwater Mysteries

The Larkspur Mysteries

The Perfect Day to go to Prison

The Perfect Day to go to Prison

It’s raining here in Symi, Greece today, making it the perfect day to go to prison. I’m not referring to being stuck indoors, because that’s me most days, positioned at my PC happily writing another chapter. I’m talking about research, and, in particular, research into Victorian prisons.

Part three of the new Larkspur Mystery series, ‘Agents of the Truth’, involves a prison. At least, part of the story does. To create authenticity in my imagined Clearwater world of late 1800s Britain, I make sure I do my research, so my world is as authentic as I can make it. At the moment, I am looking into Victorian prisons, and so far, have found two invaluable recourses I want to share with you.

Dictionary of Victorian London

I have a couple of sites permanently bookmarked on my toolbar. One of them is the Dictionary of Victorian London, a gem of a site created by Lee Jackson. There is an entire section there on Prisons, and, as with the rest of the site, this contains authentic reports and first-hand accounts of the subjects written at the time. Sometimes these are earlier than my period, but still in the Victorian era, and it is easy to imagine that not much changed between, say, 1840 and 1890.

Millbank Prison

I still double-check facts, though, in case changes had been made, and that’s a useful tip for anyone starting out on historical research. Always cross-reference. Yesterday, for example, I thought I’d found the prison in which to base my scenes. Coldbath Prison sounded perfect. I loved the name apart from anything else and decided to use that one. Reading further, though, revealed that although the prison in Clerkenwell was extended in 1850, it closed in 1885, and was transferred to the Post Office in 1889. Today, it is the site occupied by the Mount Pleasant sorting office, and I’ve passed it many times over the years without realising it was once a notorious prison.

So, I had to throw Coldbath out with the bathwater and find somewhere else. The Dictionary of Victorian London came in handy again, and there, I found The Wilds of London, by James Greenwood, 1874 – Three Years of Penal Servitude. I’d read some of James Greenwood’s writing before, ‘A Night in a Workhouse’, which was published in the 1860s, was his account of spending a night on the casual word of Lambeth workhouse. That article informed a couple of chapters in ‘Banyak & Fecks’, where Silas, at his lowest, spends a night in the casual ward of the Hackney workhouse. (It’s interesting for me to note that while Silas was doing that, in November 1884, two characters from the new Larkspur series, Dalston Blaze and Joe Tanner, were living in the general population in the same workhouse. They would have been 12 and 13 then and would have only just met, but that’s another story.)

Location of Millbank prison

The James Greenwood piece takes the reader from the court to Newgate, where the author was held, and then later, to Millbank prison and on, later still, to Pentonville and Portland prisons. They are very detailed accounts, and those details have been invaluable when writing a chapter from a prisoner’s point of view. I decided to use Millbank prison for my setting. Millbank used to stand where the Tate Gallery is now positioned, in London, and again, I have been to the site many times without realising there was once a prison there.

Prison History Org

The second site I found was Prison History, a resource for anyone interested in the history of the British prison system. There’s a page about 19th-century prisons, and linked to that, lists of prisons, their details and even their records. The site includes ‘your stories’, which are first-hand accounts from prisoners and visitors both historic and modern. While surfing the site, I found the mention of a book that sounded exactly what I was looking for. A ‘Guide to the Criminal Prisons of Nineteenth-Century England’, by Rosalind Crone, Lesley Hoskins and Rebecca Preston. You can find this for sale online, in hardback, and it’s not cheap. However, if you take the survey at Prison History, you can then email for a free PDF download. This is exactly what I did, mainly because I wanted to thank the site for their resource, but also because I wanted the book. I had it downloaded within the hour and shall delve into it as soon as I have posted this.

Agents of the Truth

There are, of course, many other resources available if you’re researching life in the Victorian Prison. I only highlight these two because they are the ones I am currently working with. But why, you may ask? How does a prison feature in ‘Agents of the truth’?

Well, I can’t tell you too much, but what I can say is, the villain of the piece has spent time in prison, and I wanted to get inside his mind. I wanted to know what suffering he would have endured, and how he might have been treated. As I read through some of the above-mentioned articles and accounts, it occurred to me how similar prison life was to workhouse life. Except, at the workhouse, a person could choose to leave, and was not there as a punishment, even though many workhouses treated their inmates as criminals. The picking apart of oakum, the limited diet, the regimes, all were very similar, depending on what workhouse you were in.

Reading the first-hand accounts of life in a Victorian prison, it’s not difficult to imaging the hardships, the loneliness and the despair, and those are the things that are driving my evil character to do what he does. I’ve done it this way so that the reader might find some sympathy with him because even the evilest villains should spark some sympathy to make them a more rounded and believable character. Not too much sympathy, though, not considering what he is about to do.

On which note, I must get back to Millbank prison in October 1890, and let my villain loose in London…

Remember to catch up with the latest book on my Wednesday WIP blog.

Photos from wikiwand.com/Milbank Prison

The Magic Number Nine

The Magic Number Nine

Last week, I promised I would show you part of ‘Keepers of the Past’ which I cut from the book. (More details of how the book is going are at the end of this post.) The cut section is below in its raw form, before I made any corrections or edits. The book, of course, will be laid out properly. I can’t get WordPress to do indents and things, so, sorry about the layout.

Keepers of the Past: Extract

The scene. Joe is intrigued by the mysterious standing stones and stone circles he has been visiting on Bodmin Moor. Many of them have nine stones, and he has uncovered more coincidences involving the numbers nine and eighteen. These have led him to believe that a friend’s cousin is in trouble. Joe is deaf, so Dalston is interpreting for him. Frank is at the academy because he has an unusual talent for mathematics (and tailoring, but otherwise, he’s uneducated and he swears a lot, be warned).

Joe, Dalston and Frank are in the study where there is a chalkboard. Joe has asked him to explain why nine is considered a magic number.


‘Look here,’ Frank said, taking the chalk from Joe and shoeing him away. ‘This is what I can tell you about the sodding number nine, right? Sit down, pay attention and you’ll be fucking amazed.’
Joe did as instructed, sitting forward in the armchair, his chin on his fists, and his eyes flitting between Dalston’s fingers and Frank writing on the board.
‘The number nine is special,’ Frank began. ‘Dalston, what’s two nines?’
‘Eighteen.’
‘Right. What’s three?’
Dalston started counting on his fingers.
‘Nah, you don’t have to do that,’ Frank interrupted and held up his hands. ‘Look, Joe. You want to know what three nines make?’
‘Twenty seven.’
‘Yeah, alright, so you’re a bloody genius. Look.’ Frank bent the middle finger of his left hand. ‘Take down number three, and you’re left with what? Two on one side and seven on the other. Twenty seven.’ Doing the same with the next finger, he said, ‘Take down number four, you’re left with three and six, and that ain’t the price of me fucking hat. It’s what four nines make. Do it with your little finger, Dalston.’
Dalston did, and realised he was left with four fingers on one hand and five on the other.
‘Right, forty five. So it goes on up to ten.’ Frank bent the thumb of his right hand, leaving nine fingers in a row. ‘Ninety.’
‘So, you’ve got a trick to remember your nine times table,’ Dalston said with a smirk. ‘Not exactly genius material, mate. What’s your point?’
‘Want to see another bit of magic, Joe?’
Joe was enthralled, bending his fingers and marvelling at the results.
‘Joe?’ Frank waved in his sightline. ‘Watch this.’
Back at the board, he wrote a list of numbers.

9, 18, 27, 36, 45, 54, 63, 72, 81, 90.

‘That’s your nine times table up to ninety, right? Notice anything about it?’ When neither Joe nor Dalston could answer, he added a zero before the first nine. ‘Now? No? Bloody hell…’ Frank sighed and drew a vertical line. ‘If I stuck a mirror between the two fives… between forty-five and fifty-four right there, you’d get the same sequence of numbers going forwards as you would going back. The last five numbers are a mirror bleeding image of the first. Get it?’
‘Yes. So?’
‘It only happens with nine,’ Frank said. ‘That’s why they call nine a magic number. Do it with your three or your seven, five, whatever, you won’t get the same mirror image. And there’s something else. Give us a number with nine in it, Joe. Any one with two digits, that’s two…’
‘I-o,’ Joe interrupted, and signed nine and six.
Frank wrote them on the board, 96, said, ‘Here’s another bit of magic for you,’ and beside it, wrote 69. ‘Take any two-digit number involving nine, reverse it, and take one away from the other… Ninety six minus sixty nine, we get seventy two. Seven plus two makes nine.’
‘Yeah?’ Dalston said, thinking that was just another coincidence. ‘What about forty-nine take away ninety-four? You can’t do that.’
”Course you can.’Frank wrote on the board.

49 minus 94 = -45
4 + 5 = 9

‘Just have to go to the left of zero and into minus. It works there too, see? Anyhow, me point is, Joe, the number nine is a weird one. Oh, hang on, there’s something else.’
More scratching on the board, the shrill squeal of chalk, and a few swearwords later, Frank had produced another list.
‘Joe. We got nine, and we got eighteen.’ He pointed to the numbers as he spoke. ‘One and eight is nine like you say. Then, we got twenty-seven. Two and seven make?’
‘Nine.’
‘Correct. Three and six? Nine. Four and Five? Nine, and so on.’
‘I never thought of that,’ Dalston said, doubt now turning to intrigue.
‘That’s ‘cos you ain’t the fucking mathematical genius, ain’t it,’ Frank tutted. ‘Give us a number. Any number.’
Dalston faltered, scrambling for something that wasn’t written on the board. ‘Seventy six.’
Frank wrote it, and turned to Joe.
‘How old are you, Joe?’
‘Nineteen.’
Frank wrote that on the board, and asked Dalston for another number; a higher one.
‘One hundred and sixty-two,’ came out of his mouth for no reason.
‘And I’m going to write this, ‘cos it’s the year.’
There were now four numbers on the board. 76, 19, 162 and 1890.
Frank stood to the side, reminding Dalston of a schoolteacher, except the ones he’d known were older than twenty and didn’t swear so much.
‘Dalston,’ Frank said, making him sit up straight and expect a telling off. ‘What’s nine times seventy-six?’
‘How the fuck would I know?’
‘Bloody hell,’ Frank muttered, and chalked up the answer. ‘Seventy-six times nine is six hundred and eighty-four.’ He’d worked it out in a heartbeat, and Dalston could only assume he was correct. ‘And the others…’
A few seconds passed, and the chalkboard was now a confusing mess of numbers that blurred Dalston’s vision.

76 x 9 = 684
19 x 9 = 171
162 x 9 = 1,458
1890 x 9 = 17,010

‘Do you see where I’m leading you with this?’
Dalston interpreted the question to Joe, and they stared at each other for a second before Joe made the sign for lunatic.
Laughing, Dalston said, ‘No, Frank, we ain’t got a clue. What are you trying to say?’
‘Ain’t it obvious?’
‘No.’
‘Right! Look here, seventy-six times nine makes six hundred and eighty-four, right?’
‘I’ll take your word for it.’
‘Good, ‘cos I ain’t fucking lying. Add up six, eight and four and what do you get?’
Joe gasped and signed, ‘Eighteen.’
‘Correct. Add one and eight?’
‘Nine.’
‘And we’re back to the sodding start. Who wants to go next on this merry-go-round? Dalston, what’s one plus seven plus one?’
‘Nine.’
‘And if you add up the others, you’ll get to some division of nine. Always.’
‘Always?’
‘Yup.’
‘That’s incredible.’
‘No, it ain’t. It’s just how it works, and that, Joe, is another reason some people reckon the number nine is fucking magic. Gets me every time, I have to say. No matter what you multiply by nine, you can always add the individual numbers of the answer and keep going until you got one digit, and it’ll always be nine. One last random one to prove me point, then I’m getting another drink.’
A little more scratching on the board, and Frank finished his lecture with a large random number.

14,892 x 9 = 134,028
1 + 3 + 4 + 0 + 2 + 8 = 18
1 + 8 = 9

He signed his work, Frank Andino, and poured himself a healthy glass of brandy, saying, ‘If you want to know about all your number nine, Joe, then all I can tell you is that it’s a fucking weird one. No wonder they was writing it everywhere, putting up rocks and stuff, but I don’t see what it’s got to do with a bloke getting killed, nor young David’s cousin, neither.’


I cut most of this as I worked on later drafts. Why? Simply because there is too much explanation, and it is not all relevant to the plot. I realised that I’d put such a lengthy explanation in there because a) I thought it was fascinating, and b) in writing the scene, what I was doing was explaining it to myself. In the redraft, the interesting information is still there, but I summed it up in a couple of paragraphs. Although I have kept one or two of the examples, showing digits rather than words, there are fewer of them. This, I hope, will get the point across without confusing the reader, as the above first draft does.

Keepers of the Past: Update

As I write, I am doing my final read-through having completed the various drafts and used ProWritingAid to conduct a line edit. The final draft goes to my proofreader next week, and once it is back, I will have one last read before uploading it all to Amazon. I have the front cover and will reveal it soon. My designer is working on the full cover for the paperback, and I have two illustrations ready to use at the front of the book. Everything is in place, and, with luck, we’re looking at a release date towards the end of the first week of November. I’ll let you know.

Well, that’s it from me for this week. The summer season is winding down here on our Greek island, and we have swapped the fans for the heaters, and the summer wardrobe for the winter one, but the days are still warm, and the sun continues to shine. Have a good week, and I will be back next Saturday. Meanwhile, keep in touch through my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/jacksonmarshauthor

JM

What Do I Call My Character?

What Do I Call My Character?

‘No One Can Take Away Your Name.’ So says a character in The Clearwater Inheritance, and it’s true. It also reminds us that when we create a character’s name, it becomes very difficult to change it, especially when writing a series. So, how do you get it correct from the start?

I saw a post in a Facebook writers’ group the other day where an author was asking for advice about naming her characters. She gave a brief outline of each one, and then asked, ‘What should I call them?’ A brief outline isn’t much to go on, so I briefly told her what I do when I need to name a character.

Below are my thoughts on the subject in greater detail, and some of the ways I go about naming characters.

It is important to ask yourself some questions.

When do your Characters Live?

I am currently writing in the 1880s and my stories are set in England. Recently, when working on ‘Guardians of the Poor’, I was inspired by a newspaper article from the time. Mentioned in it was a workhouse official named Edward Capps. I took his name and made him the master of the Hackney workhouse, partly to keep some realism, partly because I wanted a villain with a fairly ordinary, yet slightly odd name, and it is an easy one to read. His henchman in that story is called Skaggot, a far more Dickensian name, and one which reads like a cross between skag and maggot, neither of which are very nice words. Skag is slang for heroin and was in use in the 1880s, and we all know what we think of maggots.

It’s worth remembering that some names in common usage today did not exist in Victorian times, so it’s important to check what era you are writing in, and the name trends of the time. These days, we might find Christian names such as Brooklyn, Phoenix, Brighton and other places as that seem to be a trend. Similarly, names from popular TV shows crop up from time to time. For example, there was an influx of Charlenes and Scotts when Neighbours first became popular in the UK. If you look at censuses from the late 1800s you will find a wealth of Mary-Ann, Charlotte and Victoria, and James, Albert and William. Far more traditional.

What country is the character from?

In Greece, it’s traditional for a couple’s first son to take the name of his paternal grandfather. I am sure the same kind of tradition applies in other countries, and in classes of British society. Sometimes, a mother’s maiden name is used, or a grandmother’s or a more distant relative. One of my brothers is named after a great-great-uncle, my other brother has among his names one of my father’s names, Clayre, which is an unusual name, and none of us knows where it came from.

I have written characters from Ireland, so I needed Irish names, and these can be very different from English names. Some are the same or very similar, for example, I have a character named Karan, and that’s the Irish spelling of Karen, so details are important to bear in mind. Ditto characters from Scotland, Ukraine and Transylvania, and others who appear in the Clearwater Mysteries, have country-appropriate names. My Romanian count wouldn’t have been called Charlie Smith. He is Roman Movileşti from the House of Bogdanesti (or Musat) because he has a lineage dating back to 1392.

Names can also make excellent book titles

An aside. When writing ‘Deviant Desire’, the first of the Clearwater Mysteries, I introduced a character called ‘Fecker’. There’s more about that name below, but his real name is Andrej, and that’s all we know about his name to start with. Later in the story, he appears at Clearwater’s house and is introduced by the footman. I wanted to raise a slight smile among my readers, and so gave the footman the task of announcing Andrej with his full name. Therefore, the name had to be complicated, but appropriate, and I went for Andrej Borysko Yakiv Kolisnychenko. Admittedly, not easy to read, and he was soon known as Mr Andrej, but his name was important. If/when you read through the series, including ‘Banyak & Fecks’ and particularly, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance,’ you will come to see why Andrej has these names, and why they are so important to him. As his mentor says during one of the stories, ‘No one can take away your name.’

As well as considering the character’s country, you should consider his location. There are differences in Christian and surnames between someone who is East London poor and someone who is West London rich. You don’t want to use cliché though. Not every East End scallywag was called Charlie, Bert or Dodger, and not all barmaids are called Betsy, Maisy and Poll. Try and be inventive, and one way to do that is to use nicknames. More about that in a moment.

How old is your character?

As I said, names, like clothes, come and go in fashion. Remember that your character may be 60 now, but when he was born, there may have been a different trend for names. When I was popped out, Toby was hip but unusual, these days, it’s more common.

You have to think, ‘Who were the parents, and what would they have called him/her?’ This gives you character background and some backstory, and a name can say a great deal about a character’s ancestors and parents. Think of the trends at the time and what was popular. Such things can include, the TV programmes of the time, pop singers, royalty, politicians, explorers, anyone hitting the newspapers in your country at the time of your character’s birth.

Parents, after all, are the ones who do the naming.

Take my main player in The Clearwater Mysteries: Archer Camoys Riddington, 19th Viscount Clearwater, Lord Baradan of Hapsburg-Bran, Honorary Boyar Musat-Rashnov, to give him his full set of names and titles. Obviously, I don’t refer to him by all of them all the time. The official announcements happen only two or three times during 11 books, and most of the time he is known as Archer, Archie, Your Lordship or Lord Clearwater. It depends on the status between characters. Titled friends would call him Clearwater, servants, My Lord, his lover, Archie, and so on.

Archer was named by his father, a hideously military man, who was obsessed with the Battle of Agincourt. Archer’s brother is called Crispin as the battle was fought on that day, and Archer is named after the longbowmen who were responsible for the victory. He’s also got Camoys as a name because he was one of the commanding officers.

So, think ‘Who named this character’ bascule you can be sure it wasn’t you.

Fantasy names

Having said that, you do name your characters, and none of the above thoughts may apply if you’re writing fantasy. There, you can be extra-creative, but be careful. Make sure your names are easy to read. Marthigglysistbour from the planet Zyghrthithril ain’t that easy to visually digest. I am immediately put off a book if the title has in it a difficult-to-read name. The Kronghstyz Series of Sci-Fi fantasies might fill its author with pride, but for me, it would get me scrolling past.

Names to suit characters

This is one of my faves. I love checking out what names mean or thinking about why characters are called what they are. I do this a lot, sometimes just to amuse myself with obscure references and meanings, sometimes because it suits the story.

Jasper Blackwood

This morning, I wrote a newspaper article from 1882, and in it, mentioned a local policeman. ‘It seems to me the man were murdered,’ Inspector Trawlish of the Cornish Constabulary said. The name came out of my fingers rather than my head, but I wanted something vaguely Cornish-sounding and thought of fishing. Trawler would have been too obvious for a detective, but Trawl-ish sounds like he’s not very accurate in his work, so I went with that. Later, I also had a tea rooms owner and she popped out as Mrs Killraddock. I don’t know why. Probably because it also sounds Cornish (and the story is set there in 1890), but looking at it again, I imagine Mrs Killraddock being not very good at cooking kippers. ‘Don’t ask her to make breakfast, she’ll kill yer ‘addock.’

Meanwhile… In The Clearwater Mysteries, Silas Hawkins is named after the priest who delivered him and slapped him into life, Father Patrick. However, Silas’ mother wanted the Priest’s name before he was ordained, and that was Silas. To have called him Patrick O’Anything Irish-sounding would have been a cliché.

Thomas Arthur Payne

Thomas Payne is named because he is from a part of Kent I know well and there, there live a large collection of families called Payne. Simple. It also provided me with a play on words when Tom Payne and James Wright become involved in the detective agency. They were going to call it ‘The Wright-Payne Detective Agency’ until Silas pointed out another meaning.

If you want to find the best examples of names suiting characters, you only have to read Dickens. He was a master of characterisation through naming as you can see with Uriah Heap, Mr Bumble, Uncle Pumblechook, and who can forget Dick Swiveller from The Old Curiosity Shop? Come to that, what about Master Bates (Charlie), one of the boys from Oliver Twist?

We’ll say no more, and move on.

Nicknames

I like to give my characters nicknames for two reasons.
1) It’s what happens in real life, and
2) They can help define characters and relationships.

In the Clearwater Mysteries, Silas calls Andrej, ‘Fecker’ because, in Silas’ Irish accent, ‘He’s a very handsome Fecker.’ The name stuck. Similarly, Fecker, shortened to Fecks, calls Silas Banyak. In the Ukrainian village Fecker comes from, a banyak was a small cooking pot into which you’d put all kinds of stuff to produce one meal. Thus, for Fecker, Silas is a mixture of all things bubbling away and always on heat. Banyak was also the name of a faithful horse that brought him halfway across Europe, so the name also symbolises Silas’ loyalty to his friend.

Beware the Obvious

To finish with, here are a few things I suggest you look out for when inventing names.

  • Make sure they don’t all start with the same letter. Archer, Andrew, Andrej, Allan, Alice and Amy all appearing on one page, even in one novel, is confusing.
  • Ensure the name are time and place appropriate
  • Remember who named them. Two of my characters are named after places. Jasper Blackwood got his surname from the workhouse where he was placed as a baby. Dalston Blaze got his name because he was an unknown child rescued from a fire in a place called Dalston. He was entered into the workout register as ‘The boy from the Dalston Blaze’ and the name stuck.
  • Ensure that you proofread and keep the names consistent (says he!). It’s easy to miss a letter or not see a typo. I often write Adnrey instead of Andrej and never see it.
  • Tip: When I am reading through a full MS and come across a typo, I immediately do a search/find for that misspelt word. That way, I can pick up any other instances and correct them before I miss them again.
  • Don’t make names too complicated, even if it reads perfectly well to you.
  • Try and say something about your character in their name (see Dickens)
    Keep a list of names used so you don’t repeat yourself. This can be tricky in places and times when something like 50% of males were all called by the same name, but you’ll find a way around it.
  • Consider nicknames, but make sure you explain, subtly, that Silas is also called Banyak, and Andrej is also called Fecker, or Fecks, etc.
  • Keep nicknames consistent with the character using them. For example, only Andrej calls Lord Clearwater ‘Geroy’. It means noble in his Ukrainian, so it would be inappropriate for others to use it. Only Andrej’s closest finds are allowed to call him Fecker, so nicknames can also show relationships between characters.

Resources

And finally, another tip.

There are hundreds of baby naming websites out there, simply search for ‘popular boy/girl names,’ and you will be set for life. If writing in the modern-day.

If writing in the past, census lists, passenger lists, ‘popular Victorian names’ searches, and so on will all be invaluable.

If writing about Irish characters, or wherever, do the same thing. ‘Popular Irish names…’ or search for names of Celtic saints, if you want something mystical and old. Countries, place names… Be inventive, find them on Google Maps.

Save a bookmark file named ‘character names’ or something, and put in there the links to websites you find that are of use.

There, those were my random thoughts on naming characters. I’m off now to work on chapter 17 of the next Larkspur Mystery (still untitled), where I will be inventing more names because I’ve got something like eight murder victims to think up.

It’s all part of the fun.

Thanks for reading and I’ll be back next Saturday.

Meanwhile, In the Real World

Meanwhile, In the Real World

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

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

The Larkspur Series

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

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

The Haunted Manor

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

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

Summer

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

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

And Back to the Books

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

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

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

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

The Real History Behind The Clearwater Series

Part 2 – Trains

This is the second blog in a series where I look at the real historical events and facts behind my Clearwater Mysteries Series. Today we talk about my love of train travel, how it features in the books and are joined by my personal Railway Guru, Andy.

There is a lot of train travel in The Clearwater Mysteries, and for two reasons. Firstly, in the era in which the books are set, there were no cars or aeroplanes, travel was steam-powered, horse-driven, by sail, or you could walk. Secondly, I’ve always had a thing for travel, maps and routes. Within that is an interest in steam trains, though I am no expert. It must be in my blood, this thing about locomotives, and if it is, I can identify a good reason why.

The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway: A Childhood on the Tracks

It’s ironic, maybe, that I was born in 1963, the year the first Beeching report was undertaken. ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’ sought to streamline the nationalised railways industry and was responsible for identifying 2,363 stations for closure (55%) and 30% of route miles. It’s also interesting that when I was born, my small, fairly remote hometown still had a railway station, and steam trains were still in use on mainlines, although they were being replaced by diesel. However, I can honestly say that the first time I ever travelled by train, it was pulled by a steam locomotive.

New Romney Railway (1966) – YouTube film

A mile from where I was born (in a petrol station and car repair shop, by the way) was, and still is, the central station for the world’s smallest passenger-carrying light railway. That’s the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (RHDR), a 13.5-mile steam railway on a 15-inch gauge. The line was opened in 1927 and later expanded, much used by the military in WWII, and runs today as a popular tourist attraction. When I was at school, my classmates from out of town used it to get to school, and when I was growing up, it was part of my playground. I have childhood memories of not only riding on it but also being at the stations among the steam, playing on the tracks and simply watching the locomotives trailing steam and smoke across the marsh.

As an aside, at some point in the 70s, my godmother, The Dowager Lady Alvingham (on whom Lady Marshall is based in the Clearwater books), showed an interest in buying a castle that stands on a hill overlooking Romney Marsh. At the same time, my uncle, who had a passion for model railways, showed an interest in buying the RHDR. Their plan was to sit in Aunty Dolly’s castle, watching Uncle Hugh’s ‘toy’ trainset chugging across the flatlands below. Sadly, it never came to fruition, but my uncle did give us the model layout he’d built, and my father installed it in our attic. It was a vast landscape about 12 feet by four, had houses with working lights, the Flying Scotsman with real smoke, and provided hours of endless fascination for my brothers and me.

Still Chugging

My interest in train travel is still chugging along. In fact, it is my preferred method of travel. There is something romantic in planning a journey, and sometimes I think I am a frustrated travel agent. I don’t mean popping into Expedia and booking a flight and hotel; I mean looking at a map, working out what railways will get you there, finding the timetables and working out the connections.

Our travel companion, Paddington, at budapest train station

A few years ago, Neil and I decided on a Central European holiday. It was my fault, really. I wanted to travel a few countries by train, so I got out the atlas, Googled a bit, and set to work on a route. Because we live on an island, we had to start the journey by boat and fly to our first destination, Vienna. We were met by Neil’s brother, who lives there, and travelled into the city by train, so that was a good start. After a couple of days there, we moved on, and in the space of a couple of weeks, went from Vienna to Prague to Budapest to Belgrade on a variety of train journeys, some more classy than others.

Me fulfilling a bit of a dream, on a train, in the Carpathian mountains, coming back from Transylvania

Before this, we had been to Romania for my 50th birthday, flying into Bucharest and then taking the train into the Carpathian Mountains to Sighisoara, the alleged birthplace of Vlad Tepes on whom Stoker based Dracula. We also travelled by train to Brasov and stayed there on the way back to Bucharest, and we did all this first-class because, in Europe, ticket prices are often a tenth of the price they are in the UK and elsewhere.

I mention all this because, in the upcoming novel ‘The Clearwater Inheritance,’ some of the characters find themselves travelling by train and visit, among other places, Vienna, Budapest, and Brasov, and they journey through the Carpathian Mountains.

 

Across Canada by train, 2020

One of my life’s ambitions was to travel across Canada by train, a five-day journey from Toronto to Vancouver. (We passed through a place called Clearwater, and stopped at a place called Collins.) This we achieved last year, just before the world was overcome by the virus.

 

 

Seen in Vancouver

Actually, we left Vancouver at the end of the Canadian leg of the journey, the day after the country went into lockdown. Although our trip wasn’t over, we had to cut the London and Athens legs short as there was no point in going there; everything was shut. Rearranging flights at two in the morning while sitting in an airport, buying boat tickets, finding hotels, and wondering whether we might have to travel from London to Athens by hire car or train… Well, for me, that was like a weird dream come true. The travel agent in me kicked in, and we became like continents on ‘The Amazing Race.’

You won’t be surprised to learn I am keen on ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ by Jules Verne.

——————————————————————————-

At this point I thought it would be fun to invite my good friend Andy over tell us a little about himself. He has become my Railway Guru, always willing to answer my questions and check facts for me as I research the series. I asked him where his love of trains came from and how that seed grew.

I first became interested in railways at the age of 10 when my parents unwisely bought me an “ABC” locomotive spotting book to shut me up on an interminable family holiday rail journey from Birmingham to Ilfracombe. They came to very much regret doing this as my bedroom filled up with railway magazines, models, and bits of actual railway equipment. I was already interested in buses as there was a major bus depot a few minutes walk from my house. Through the teenage years the interests became more advanced with much borrowing of books from the library, and at the same time steam was disappearing from the UK national railway network. No doubt all that reading about how things came to be the way they were encouraged me to take a University degree in history, and then start a career in transport management (buses in this case). A switch to managing freight transport followed, and then manufacturing industry.

So great that your childhood hobby grew into your career. And I know that even now in retirement you have managed to carry on in a new capacity…

The view of the Booking Officer

Yes, after semi-retirement I took up a part-time position at my local heritage steam railway as Booking Office Supervisor, surrounded by 1898 vintage buildings, real working steam trains, and a superb shop selling second hand railway books. I have also added looking at ferries and aircraft to my transport studies.

When not doing this I like reading fiction, often set in the late-Victorian, Edwardian, 1920/30/40s era, and sneering at authors who get their railway facts wrong (and so often their geography too). Being used as a consultant on your “Clearwater” series was immensely satisfying as a result.

Thank you Andy and I really think that maybe it will be your turn next to write a book!

——————————————————————————-

So back to my writing and how I use trains in the Clearwater Mysteries.

The first time a train appears is in chapter one of book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’.

James Joseph Wright was born on January 10th, 1863, at the precise moment the world’s first underground train delivered its passengers to Farringdon station. As the locomotive puffed and fumed from the tunnel, James’s mother, some four miles distant, puffed and fumed through her own first delivery.

That’s the only time an underground train is mentioned in the series, but overground trains start to feature from then on. I started this book with an ending in mind. I wanted one of those classic ‘fight on the roof of a moving train’ moments and wanted to add in men on horseback riding alongside, someone (James) inching along the outside of the trucks, the villain doing away with the driver, and the train racing out of control towards a fiery end… And that’s exactly what you get.

Archer wasn’t far behind, galloping from the ridge to the rear of the train and encouraging his mount with his crop. The horse knew its purpose and worked with him, delivering him up the embankment to the backplate. The viscount drew level with the last car, stood in the stirrups, and grabbed the rail. With one great leap, he left the saddle and swung his legs across to the car. He landed first time and clambered aboard as the horse veered off and slowed. Archer wasted no time climbing to the roof, and James turned his attention to the engine.

‘Jimmy!’ Archer was above him, fighting the wind for his balance. ‘Warn the driver. Stop the train.’

Everything was shadows and speed, gusts and fumes as James fought his way to the next car. Wooden, it offered a narrow walkway, making it easier for him to pass, but there were no handholds apart from cracks in the planking where he dug his fingertips, pressing his body flat against the side. He didn’t know how many more cars there were before the tender, but the headlamps were still a way off. The driver was expecting to continue straight on and was steaming the engine hard. [Twisted Tracks, chapter 24.]

Fallen Splendour and Other Journeys

Trains appear again in book four, ‘Fallen Splendour.’ For this one, I wanted another tense sequence and included a race against time. In this case, I had to get James from London to the Welsh coast to collect Archer and get them both back to the High Court in London in as few hours as possible. Initially, I thought I had not left myself enough time and thought I might have to rewrite some chapters because the time I had given James to achieve his task seemed unreasonably short. Then I referred to my railways guru, Andy, and he told me about ‘specials.’ Apparently, if you had enough money and clout, you could have the railways put on a special train just for you, and this, they could do with a few hours’ notice. Perfect! Of course, being a Clearwater novel, I didn’t go for just any old special, which is why Archer finds himself steaming through the night in Queen Victoria’s royal carriage.

Bitter Bloodline’ (book five) starts with a train crash. ‘Artful Deception’ (book six) takes us across the English Channel and on a relatively short journey to the Netherlands and back, plus another train journey to Derbyshire. In book seven, ‘Home From Nowhere’, Jasper encounters his first journey by train.

Jasper’s fear soon gave way to intrigue when the train moved, and became awe when it picked up speed. It wasn’t long before he began to enjoy the rhythmic trundling, and the only time he thought he was going to die was when they passed through a tunnel. The

sound was deafening, smoke poured in through the window, and the carriage was plunged into darkness. It was over in seconds, leaving the footman struggling with the window, and Jasper shaking.

Train journeys are also featured in books eight and nine, but when we reach book ten… Well, that’s when I thought it was time to branch out from the domestic lines and go intercontinental.

The Clearwater Inheritance

You know how I am with ‘Dracula’, the epistolary novel to end all epistolary novels in my opinion… I employ a little of this ‘story in journals, letters, and other documents’ style in The Clearwater Inheritance.

Dracula opens with Jonathan Harker writing about his journey from Munich to Bistritz (now called Bistrita), travelling through Vienna and Budapest. Two of my characters take the same route because they are also travelling to Transylvania (though that’s got nothing to do with vampires).

I may have travelled on similar routes, but not, obviously, in the same century or on the same kind of trains, so I had to do some research into how such a journey would have been. You know how you sometimes get lucky? I put a search string into the search engine that read something like this: ‘Travelling in Europe in 1890’, and what should I find in a book collection?

Travels in Various Parts of Europe During the Years 1888, 1889 and 1890, Being a short and practical account, by Gilbert H. W. Harrison (with 24 illustrations).

I couldn’t have asked for anything better and was able to draw on first-person accounts of Folkestone, the channel crossing, Paris, Vienna, Budapest and parts of Hungary as they had been experienced in the same year as my story. I even have my characters stay at or mention hotels and stations Harrison saw and described.

Harrison was on a tourist route, however, and my characters follow the same route until they realise Thomas Cook & Son haven’t grasped the urgency of their journey. There are other delays, and backstory from ‘Banyak & Fecks’ comes into play at one point, as do other pre-mentioned backstories concerting Lady Clearwater’s Romanian/Transylvanian connections and other things to do with Archer’s past. Ultimately, my travelling characters need to get back to England in a hurry.

The map created for ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ based on one from 1912. All rights reserved. Dark lines and lighter solid lines show the Orient Express routes, dotted lines are the characters’ other routes.

Again, I spoke to Andy about this side of the story and asked how long it would have taken from Bodmin in Cornwall to Brasov in what is now Romania in 1890. He came back with suggested times and routes. Finding original timetables is never easy, but I reckon, in the story, I am as close to what was possible as I can be. For the return journey, though, I needed to speed things up a bit and so looked into using the Express d’Orient, the Orient Express as we now call it.

A timetable from The Orient Express

A couple of chapters happen aboard this luxury train, but this is not an Agatha Christie, and the journey to and from Brasov is only one aspect of the story, but again, I tried to be as accurate as possible, at least with descriptions and distances. I had to reschedule the Orient Express to a different day, else the rest of the plot wouldn’t work, but apart from that, the race home is, as far as I can see, accurate, if a little tight. The characters have an awful lot of luck making steamers and ‘very early’ trains, but hey, it’s fiction and fact mixed, faction, you might say, and it was all possible.

End of the line

Is book ten the end of the line for Clearwater? Has the series finally reached its destination? All I can say is, running at 150,000 words, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ is the longest of the stories, and it does have a sense of rounding things off. It also has a sense of leaving something open for another series set in the same world, and it is that idea I will be considering once this book has been published.

Look out for my newsletter at the start of June, as there will be an extract from the book included as a special preview for those who sign up. (There won’t be any plot spoilers.)

I must go now, but I will add a list of references I have used for my railway research as a guide for anyone who is interested to know more.

Books:


 

Journal of the Society of Arts (1891), Austro-Hungarian Railways and the Zone System
London Daily News 1890 (and other newspapers of the time)

Online:

GlobalSecurity.org (on which my map of the route is based) https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/europe/orient-express.htm

The Man In Seat 61

 

 

Why Do I Write a Blog?

Why Do I Write a Blog?

Today, I thought I’d take a step away from writing about my writing to write about my blogging. Blogging is, of course, another way of writing, so I suppose I am still writing about writing, only, in this case, I am writing about my blog writing. Rather, blogs, plural as I have two.

Let me start off by saying that I am writing this blog in the way that I approach most of my blogging and a great deal of my writing. Simply put, I am making it up as I go along. I tend to write from a stream of consciousness angle. Starting with an idea, in today’s case, a suggestion from my PA, Jenine, I sit at the PC with an empty page and start writing. I write what is on my mind and develop from there.

I also tend to do that when writing my books; start with an idea, imagine a scene, and then let it flow. In the case of novel writing, I then do a lot of editing work as I go over the first draft, and I also pop backwards and forwards through a manuscript while writing it to keep facts consistent and make sure I have remembered the clues correctly.

I take the same approach with blog writing, but the only editing I do is when I have finished. Then, I use a couple of writer tools to help keep me in check. Grammarly is one, and Pro Writing Aid is the other.

The danger of this unplanned approach is that I often drift from one point to the next and forget what I was talking about. Still, that’s how I blog, that’s how it goes, and that’s how this blog is going to go.

When Did Blogging Start?

You know me, I like to discover the derivations of words, and for that, I tend to use the online dictionary by typing, for example, ‘Blog derivation’ or ‘Blog meaning’ in a search string and finding the dictionary page for that word. [See the image.]

Blog, the noun, is a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.

To blog, the verb, is to add new material to or regularly update a blog.

Blog, the word, derives as a truncation of the word Weblog, or web-log, I guess, rather than ‘we blog’, and it’s been around since 1900.

Except it hasn’t.

One of the functions of that online dictionary is showing you where a word was first recorded in print, and I use that part of it a great deal. When writing the Clearwater books set in the late 19th century, for example, I often pause after writing a word and think, ‘Did that word exist then?’ A quick check will tell me when it first appeared in print, and although that’s not 100% accurate as a guide to spoken usage, it’s a help. Only this week, I paused after writing the word ‘paperwork’ and wondered if a solicitor in 1890 would use such a word? The answer? No. That word didn’t start to appear in print until the 1940s, so I changed it to documentation.

As for ‘blog’, I was surprised to find that my online resource suggested it was in use between 1910 and 1940. If you look at the image (left), the graph, you can see there’s a bump at that time, before the word took off in the late 1990s. I checked that out via Google Books, and it turned out that the source of this unlikely information was a misprint. Rather, a miss-read by some computerised scanner. The word it was reading was an abbreviation of Building, printed as BLDG in various directories, and the scanner was mistaking the D for an O.

The lesson? Always double-check your research.

What Do I Get Out of a blog?

Well, for a start, I didn’t realise ‘documentation’ wasn’t in use in 1890 either. Not until I started talking about it just now and went to check. I’d used it in yesterday’s first draft of a Clearwater chapter, thinking ‘It must be okay’, and was going to leave it there. Now, when I return to that chapter, I will change it to ‘documents’ because ‘documentation’ wasn’t used until the 20th century. You see? Blogging helps my work.

It also gives me a legitimate reason to ramble on like I am doing now, sometimes get things off my chest, and, at other times, publicise my latest book. I always hope it brings me closer to my readers and them closer to me. That is why I prefer this freestyle, stream of consciousness approach.

Paid to Blog?

I have been, and let me tell you, it can be arduous and soul-destroying. A few years ago, I fell upon a travel site that wanted stories for their posts based on personal travel experiences. Wonderful, I thought. I’ve been to a few places, I’ll chat about them. Simple.

Not.

These kinds of sites need you to be SEO targeted and keyword rich (I loath such jargon). They needed you to include keywords in H Tags, and upload images with no ALT text, hit a particular word count, supply your own images, and stick to stringent guidelines while being creative. Woe betides anyone who falls foul of this creative cagery.

Cagery being a word I just invented. I think. (He makes a quick check online. Did you mean Calgary? No, I didn’t. Checks real dictionary and discovers ‘cage’ comes between caftan and cagoule, which is an interesting costume challenge, but the word cagery doesn’t exist, not even in the sense of ‘constraint’, which is what I meant.)

I think my point here is that these ‘earn a fortune by blogging’ websites are only suitable for those who can churn out the required words within strict rules, and I’m not one of them. I did do it, for a while at least, but it was too structured for me, and I was only being paid $40.00 for what turned out to be about six hours’ work for 600 words. I’d rather write a novel of 90,000 words and be paid nothing for my time than 600 words to someone else’s formula.

But, yes, it is possible to make money out of blogging. I used to have Google Adsense  links where a programme adds adverts to your pages and if anyone clicks on one, you get $0.0002, or something, but another pet hate of mine are blogs and sites that are advert-stuffed, so that get rich quick scheme didn’t last long.

Any money I make from my two blogs comes from the sales of my own books generated from my own links and publicity.

My Blogs Are My Conversation

Me outside a cafe

I think that’s obvious from the way I am rambling on as if you and I were sat outside a café having a chat, I’d had a glass of wine, and my usual staid and quiet tongue was well loosened. I use these pages to chat to you, and thus, myself, and often, in doing so, ideas spring to mind. Sometimes, I put up a less chatty, more planned blog, and although this process takes more time, it often offers more help in developing my books. For example, last October, while writing ‘Banyak & Fecks’, I undertook a lot of research into Male Sex Workers in Victorian London, the ways of the workhouse and the poverty of the East End in the 1880s. These subjects formed the background to the story (and others in the series). I decided to blog about that research, and in doing so, had to examine documents and, thus, discover extra facts, which then went into the novel. So, blogging about novel writing can feed into that writing, and vice versa.

Writing a blog also helps me think about the stories and the characters. I’ve done a couple of interviews with characters, one A Character Interview With James Wright, you can find if you follow that link. James is one of the central characters in the Clearwater series, and in answering questions set by Jenine, I had to think deeper than what comes out of my head, and that helped develop a deeper understanding of the man I was creating.

As Jenine put in the list of ideas she sent me for this post, I could also mention that writing a regular blog ‘Allows your PA to boss you around.’ That’s a good thing for both of us, because it stops me from being lazy, and it makes her feel like she’s doing something useful.

I hope you have gathered by now that I also like to put humour into my blogging.

I also put an awful lot of typos because I write as I think, and even my editing software doesn’t pick up everything. For example, before I changed it, the above sentence read, ‘I also like to put hummus into my blogging’, and on more than one occasion, I have written things like, ‘You must see this bog’, and ‘The main character is a cuntess.’ (I now have a heap of personalised corrections in Word auto-correct.)

And As For The Other Blog?

I have been mentioning my two blogs, this being one of them. The other, I have had on the go since about 2005. It started out as a website where I could publicise my husband’s photo shop on the Greek island of Symi. Later, it developed into a site where I could also talk about the books I was writing about living on a Greek island. Later still, when we closed the shop, I continued the blog because it had gained a huge following, and my mother liked to know what I was up to. It went from being a once-a-month update to a weekly one to a seven day a week chat and is now a five day per week chat about me, my life, my writing and day to day living on a Greek island. I also sound off about Brexit and ruffle a few feathers from time to time, and Neil and I post photos five times per week.

So, if you can stand this kind of ‘train of thought’ style, want to know what I, personally and as James, my real name, is up to here on Symi, Greece, then bookmark Symi Dream (symidream.com) where you can find me chatting about everything and nothing.

Blog Off

And so, thank you for listening to me thus far. I am going now, as I must turn my attention back to Clearwater 10, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, which is now up to a worrying 120,000 words in 1st draft form and still not reached its climax. This may well turn out to be a story in two parts. Either that, or I will have to chop out many interesting and fun scenes that are not 100% on-story, but which do contain elements of the mystery, and rework the whole thing. If I do, I may then publish the cut scenes separately or give them away for free in my newsletter, and if I do that, then I will make sure that I have not cut out any necessary plot points or clues.

Maybe I’ll just treat everyone to a very long Clearwater, like a Downton Abbey Christmas special and have done with it.

One thing’s for sure. As the writing of the book and its publication continue, I will be blogging about it.

The Clearwater Inheritance: Working on the first draft

The Clearwater Inheritance: Working on the first draft

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

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

Developing the Cast

My desk this morning.

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

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

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

The Clearwater Inheritance

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

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

Rasnov Citadel. I visited there in 2013.

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

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

Researching ‘Inheritance’

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

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

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

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

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

Musical Code & Philip Thicknesse

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

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

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

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

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

Locations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larkspur Hall

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

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

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

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

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

Onwards to the future…

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

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

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

Jasper Blackwood at the piano.

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

Unspeakable Acts: Male Sex Workers in Victorian London

Unspeakable Acts: Male Sex Workers in Victorian London

October is LGBT History month in America. Founded in 1994 by a high school teacher, October was chosen because schools were in session and October 11th is Coming Out Day. Each year, the organisation celebrates 31 LGBT icons and asks for nominations for the following year. There’s a link to the website at the end of this post.

So, what has that to do with the title of this post and my series set in the 1880s? Let me explain.

Astute readers may have noticed the titles of the first four books in The Clearwater Mystery series, and how each one employs a word once used to describe gay men; Deviant Desire, Twisted Tracks, Unspeakable Acts, and Fallen Splendour. Yes, I did that on purpose, and the second word of each title relates to the story:

Deviant Desire – Archer’s (then considered) deviant love for Silas, and the Ripper’s deviant desire to kill. Twisted Tracks – the trail the Ripper leaves

The Royal Opera House, London, one of the settings for ‘Unspeakable Acts’

as he tries to escape, and the finale happens on top of a moving train. Unspeakable Acts – set at the Royal Opera House where a speech is unspeakable because the speaker may be murdered if he makes it and an opera also has acts. It also relates to the activities that go on inside the Cleaver Street male brothel. Fallen Splendour – based on Tennyson’s line, ‘The splendour falls on castle walls’, where the splendour of the characters’ friendship flourishes, we end up at Larkspur Hall, Clearwater’s country home, and we have a splendid appearance of a particular character right at the end.

Each one is a play on words, fine. So, what has that to do with the title and male sex workers in Victorian London let alone LGBT History month?

Well, I thought, ‘Who might be a gay icon from the 1880s?’ , if such a thing took place and being gay then was acceptable/legal. I decided, apart from Clearwater who is fictitious, I might have nominated John Saul.

John (actually christened Johannes also known as Jack, or Irish Jack) was born in Dublin in 1857.

The Sins of Jack Saul

He was involved in a homosexual scandal at Dublin Castle in 1884, came to London and worked briefly at Drury Lane, but was also a sex worker. The book ‘The Sins of Jack Saul’ by Glenn Chandler is available from Amazon if you want the full story. John/Jack Saul is also thought to be the author of a famous gay, erotic novel, ‘The Sins of the City of the Plain’ (1881), and I can tell you, it’s an eye-opener. I don’t know whether nominating such a chap is the right thing to do, he was in and out of court, but never actually imprisoned (as far as I can remember), probably because he entertained titled and wealthy gentlemen, and they didn’t want to risk being exposed. Still, having researched what such young men had to do to survive, I’ll use him as my imaginary nomination for LGBT History Month 1888 on behalf of all sex-working young men of the time.

Currently, I am researching and writing a Clearwater prequel, ‘Banyak & Fecks’, and these two characters turn to sex work to stay alive. Every time I search for resources about male prostitution in London in the 1880s, I come up against three main categories: Jack Saul, telegraph boys, and the Cleveland Street Scandal. (The trial of Oscar Wilde is beyond my current era, so that hasn’t happened yet.)

I have used all three as inspiration in my series.

A bust, possibly of Jack Saul, found in Paris.

Left: No photograph of Saul is known to exist. However, in 2020 Glenn Chandler was contacted by a reader of his biography who owned a paper-mache head of a smiling young male which had been purchased in a Paris flea market years before. It bears a metal plate reading “Jack Saul 1890”

Silas Hawkins (of the Clearwater Mysteries) is loosely based on the Jack Saul from ‘The Sins of the City…’. Although Silas a very good-looking young fellow, he is not effeminate but does have a fresh-looking, beardless face and sparkling blue eyes. The Jack Saul of the story is also described as having …an Adonis-like figure… especially about what snobs call the fork of his trousers, where evidently he was favoured by nature by a very extraordinary development of the male appendage. A description which inspired my character, Andrej (Fecks), and the fact that Thomas in my series has auburn hair the same as Jack Saul and an extraordinary development of his own, isn’t coincidental either.

Telegraph boys were also notorious for giving ‘extras’ for a small fee. These young men, some as young as thirteen, were employed to deliver telegrams, the equivalent of today’s texting, I guess. Smartly dressed in tight blue uniforms, fit from walking, and employed to knock at the doors of private homes, you can imagine how gay men, closeted by necessity, might find them tempting, and as the youths weren’t well paid, ‘tips’ were often welcome.

James Wright enters my series in book one as a telegraph boy, but only to deliver a message and make eyes at Thomas, and comes into his own in book two, ‘Twisted Tracks.’ When younger, James, like many young men in the service, had been approached by an older messenger who suggests he could do well if he gave ‘extras.’ James isn’t interested. Later, the same older boy, Eddie Lovemount, tries to interest him in a male brothel in Cleaver Street, and again, James isn’t interested.

However, in book three, ‘Unspeakable Acts’, Silas, on seeing Viscount Clearwater’s old school friend at dinner, thinks he remembers the man from a time he was taken to Cleaver Street (by Lovemount) to consider becoming a kept ‘Mary-Ann.’ Silas declines, but, in the story, has to return there to discover if Clearwater’s friend uses the brothel, and James assists him. In the house, Silas witnesses what would have been called unspeakable acts taking place, and parts of the mystery start to come together.

Hopefully, you can see the connections I am making here.

Newspaper illustration of The Cleveland Street Scandal.

Jack Saul was called as a witness in the Cleveland Street Scandal which came about after Thomas Swinscow, a General Post Office messenger was investigated for having too much money about his person. Swinscow admitted that he made his cash working for Charles Hammond at 19 Cleveland Street, a male brothel. A couple of other young men involved were called Newlove and Thickbroom (honestly), so I think I was justified in calling my brothel agent Lovemount. Another was called George Wright, but it was coincidental that I called my character James Wright.

In Unspeakable Acts, I refer to the brothel as being at Cleaver Street for the same reason Whitechapel is Greychurch, and Limehouse is Limedock because I wanted to be creative with certain facts. For example, the Cleveland Street Scandal didn’t break until later in 1889, and my story takes place in November 1888, and in Deviant Desire, the Ripper is killing rent boys, not female sex workers.

Let’s get back to ‘Unspeakable Acts’ and LGBT History Month, and let’s do it via ‘Banyak & Fecks’ which is still currently ‘on the typewriter.’

This prequel fills in information about Silas and Andrej (Banyak & Fecks as they nickname each other), and part of their backstory is about selling their bodies for sex in order to eat. It’s nothing like ‘The Sins of the City of the Plain’ in that it is not graphic, though we’re not left in any doubt what they have to agree to do to earn their money. As I was/am writing it, and researching into what life would have been like for them, and while trying to find research other than Saul, messenger boys and Cleveland Street, it occurred to me how dangerous the job would have been (and still can be, I imagine).

Silas Hawkins depicted at The Royal Opera House

These young men of the past risked all kinds of disease and infections from lice to syphilis. They risked death, as their female counterparts did at the hands of Jack the Ripper. They suffered abuse in the name of fetish, such as hinted at in ‘Unspeakable Acts.’ Some were used as male models and went willingly to the studios, while others were coerced and then forced into pornography. Meanwhile, although the death penalty for sodomy in the UK was abolished in 1861, thanks to section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, the Labouchere amendment, ‘gross indecency’ was a crime carrying a penalty of up to two years with hard labour.

The thing that got me in the Cleveland Street scandal and other trials of telegraph boys and male sex workers was that if a scandal did break, or an arrest was made, it was usually the victim who was punished, not the instigator. The victim being the youth who undertook the work because he had no choice, the instigators often being rich, titled or older men with the contacts, finances and ability to get themselves off – if you will excuse the term.

Which is why, if now was 1888, and I was voting for my LGBT icon of the day, I’d vote for Jack Saul, deviant though he no doubt was, and through him, Silas, Fecker and all those other lads who had no option but to use the only thing they had to make money, their bodies.

Links:

LGBT History Month
The Sins of Jack Saul by Glenn Chandler
The Sins of the City of the Plain
The Clearwater Mystery Series, by Jackson Marsh

Slumming it in Victorian London

Slumming it in Victorian London

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

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

Origins of word usage, ‘slumming’

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

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

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

This excerpt from The St James Gazette explains it neatly.

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

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

Examples from newspapers and publications

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

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

[The Sportsman, July 16th 1887]

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

Click for full size

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click for full size

A charitable reason.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Finally

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

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