Doing Your Denouement

I have just written the denouement for ‘Speaking In Silence’, and it’s prompted me to talk about the subject and what I learnt from the process of writing the novel.

All my novels tie up at the end, but they don’t always come with a classic denouement. The closest I came was in ‘Unspeakable Acts’, the third Clearwater novel, where James Wright explains the villain’s motivation and method. ‘Speaking In Silence’ is slightly different to other mysteries I’ve written because it’s more of a ‘What are they doing?’ mystery for the reader, who won’t know what until the climax, and won’t know how until the last scene, the denouement.

What is a Denouement?

The word is borrowed from the French and originates in Latin, as this snippet from Etymonline tells us:

1752, from French dénouement “an untying” (of plot), from dénouer “untie” (Old French desnouer) from des- “un-, out” + nouer “to tie, knot,” from Latin nodus “a knot,” from PIE root *ned- “to bind, tie.”

[PIE = The roots of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language are basic parts of words that carry a lexical meaning, so-called morphemes.]

In other words, denouement means to untie a knot. In literary terms, it means the final part of a play, film, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved. Or, as the dictionary also states: the outcome of a situation, when something is decided or made clear.

In other-other words, it’s that bit at the end of an Agatha Christie when Poirot stands in the drawing room and tells the assembled characters who did it and how. Of course, the technique is used in all forms of literature and creative writing, and doesn’t have to pertain to a crime story. The denouement of Romeo and Juliet happens after the two main characters are dead, for example, even though we all saw how they died.

What to Consider When Writing a Denouement

The following is based on my experience. There are plenty of free writing-advice websites that will give their own views, but having just looked at a few, they are very similar to what I worked out for myself.

Keep notes as you write towards the end

First of all, as I wrote my way through the first draft of Speaking In Silence, I made a note every time a character was seen to do something with no explanation; every time I dropped in a question mark for the reader if you like. This was to make sure I didn’t leave any knots still tied at the end. I do this with every novel, and it’s a good way to avoid the trap of ‘I’ll remember that for sure’, only to say later, ‘What was it I had to remember?’

The notes also help me see if I have given too much away to the reader, and if I need to take out anything too obvious. Thinking about ‘Silence’, I’m worried the reader will catch on to what’s happening well before the end, and so the climax won’t be a surprise. (It doesn’t have to be. I’ve found readers are as happy to say, ‘I didn’t see that coming’ as they are to have proved themselves right.)

Don’t Witter on for too Long

Says he… My denouement happens in dialogue, and I’m not sure if that’s the done thing or not, but it’s what I have done. The chapter is currently 4,000 words long, but it’s not all explanation. Some of it is character thoughts, reactions and other story matters, and the explanation of how they did it comes from four characters, not one, so there is more than one voice, and more than one point of view. They are explaining themselves to Lord Clearwater, so we are in his head, and when I felt the others were being too detailed, I had him slow them down because I imagined that’s what the reader would also be thinking.

Beware Repeats

I was conscious of not repeating what the reader already knew. They would have seen X do this and that, and the idea of the denouement isn’t to go back and relive the action, it’s to explain the reason for the action. Yes, you have to place the explanation in context, but that can be done in a few words. Also, once something has been explained, there’s no need to repeat the explanation from another character’s point of view. In my scene, with four people untying the knots, I made sure they all contributed, but they only contributed something new or added a detail that cleared up another question mark.

Show Not Tell

That old chestnut again. Think about that Agatha Christie scene when Poirot has everyone in the drawing room, the dining car or wherever, and you’ll see he does a lot of talking. Now think film, and you’ll notice there are flashbacks showing the action. That’s one way of giving the explanation, but it’s a filmic one. The way to present a ‘show’ denouement is to write a scene where the action unknots the rope, rather than dialogue doing it for you. It’s not easy, and in my opinion, some stories require a dialogue explanation. If I had written the ‘how they did it’ into the action during the book, there would be no deepening mystery. If I had written the ‘how they did it’ into the climax, it would have cluttered up the pace. The only way I could make it work in ‘Silence’ was to have the four characters tell Clearwater — who knows what they have done — exactly how they did it.

Keep to the Rules

Although it’s right at the end of the book, my denouement still keeps to the rules of character arc and development, scene structure, location, description and pace. It’s not just one long dialogue of this-then-that. There is some character-created humour, we come away with the sense that a particular character has changed, and we know where we are (Clearwater’s drawing room with the footman coming and going). As well as all that, the scene ends with a great big question mark which will lead us into the next instalment. Not exactly a cliff-hanger because the reader knows the answer to the question, but the characters don’t.

Other Advice Answered

I pulled a few random tips of denouement writing off the internet. I’ve justified my ending against them.

Keep it short. Each part of my explanation is short, but there are a lot of things to explain, and that, I did on purpose.

The denouement validates the story. I always aim for this (see the end of ‘Fallen Splendour’ for my favourite story validation). The denouement validates what has changed for a character or a situation.

Convey a new normal. I have left the reader knowing a particular character will now be better off, and one will be worse off. That is their new normal.

Characters’ futures. Similar to the new normal; the conflicts have been resolved, and normalcy returns to the characters, although that normalcy might/should be changed. I’ve also put in a question mark, and the denouement is followed by a short epilogue which takes us towards the next story.

Epilogue Vs Denouement This is summarised very nicely at this page from masterclass.com:

Denouement is an essential conclusion to plotted conflict, while the epilogue is an optional afterward in which the author shows readers how characters have fared after the events chronicled in the work.

In ‘Speaking In Silence’, the epilogue concerns the villain and leads us into the next story. I now have a completed first draft and can set about rewriting the whole thing and improving it, all the while, aiming towards that all important denouement.

‘Speaking in Silence’ should be ready by July, and you can keep up to date with its progress on my weekly Wednesday WIP blog.

Work In Progress 3.05

Speaking In Silence

We are now well on the way to Devizes in Wiltshire. In fact, we will be there at any moment. I am comparing the journey of Speaking In Silence to a train ride from London to Bodmin and looking at my old map of the GWR lines, I’d say Devizes was about a third of the way there or 35,000 words in first draft terms. When we reach Bodmin (estimated time of arrival, 100,000 words), we will have to make the return journey via the second and following drafts, but that’s for much later.

Devizes is also appropriate because that is where my villain lives or lived in real life. At least, he was a member of parliament for the area back in 1891 when the story is set. When I say ‘in real life’, I am basing my character on a newspaper article and on a character from it, but because of what he does in the story, I must point out that the real man didn’t do this in real life. He might have done what he was accused of in the newspapers of the time, but the case was never tried, so who can say?

Research this week has seen me looking up chemical reactions, reading first-hand accounts of London’s East End in the 19th century, and the etiquette of a country house Friday-to-Monday, what we now call a weekend. The word ‘weekend’ only came into use just before 1920, so it’s another of those words I can’t use, like ‘okay’, ‘teenager’ or, to a certain extent, ‘adolescent.’ ‘Homosexual’ is another one I shouldn’t use (common usage after 1900, only specialised medical use a few years before), and when my books are filled with homosexual adolescents recounting their okay teenage years at the weekend… Well, I revert to the thesaurus on a regular basis. Meanwhile, Jenine has been researching letters patent and advancement of titles, the process of lobbying for someone to receive an earldom and how that happens. Poor thing.

It’s been a busy journey so far, and we nearly had a derailment around Newbury when I found myself stuck. I had planned an ending, but as the characters started telling me their story, I realised the ending was wrong. I had to think up another direction, and we almost jumped the tracks. Now, though, we’re back on them, and the destination is the same, only with a slight detour. As usual, I can’t tell you too much, but I can say that what the near derailment has done, is force me to write characters as knowing what is going on in the story while not being able to tell the reader. You see, in this book, it’s all about what’s not being said that’s important, and yet an awful lot is said. Hence, Speaking In Silence.

The journey continues…

Seeing Through Shadows

The Larkspur Mysteries Book Four

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

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

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

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

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

The Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly

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

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

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

The Cornish Riviera Express en route to Cornwall January 1891

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

The Cornish Riviera Express

A Classic Mashup

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday Lord Clearwater

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


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

The coming congress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HMS Brittania entering Portsmouth UK

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

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

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

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

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

Silas Hawkins, street-rat and renter

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

Larkspur Hall Inspiration

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

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

Work In Progress 2.5

Dusk in the woods

Here’s an update on Larkspur Four (still untitled). I am now up to just over 42,000 words and approaching the halfway mark. It’s clear this isn’t going to be a nail-biter like ‘Agents’ or some of the other Clearwater books. It’s more of a slowly evolving mystery of things and people that go bump in the night. ‘Things’, because our new character is investigating the sighting of a ghost from the past which is threatening Larkspur Hall, and ‘people’, because he has met someone at Academy House who has started to stir his heartstrings. Therefore, book four will be a gradually unfolding mystery with plenty of history (real and imagined), a budding love story, and a twist that I hope no-one sees coming.

If ‘book four’ has a background theme, it is one of perceptions. Among it all, I have expanded an idea I used in ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’ People have commented on my use of an owl in that book; there’s a scene where an owl flies over the estate at night and we get to see into the Hall and what’s going on without being inside or in a character’s point of view. I have used the same device twice so far in book four, but not just with the owl.

Fox and Owl (credit to Anand Varma)

I’ll leave you with a short extract from draft one — and remember, this is only a rough draft. (A fox is looking down on the ruined abbey at night.)

Head down, ears up, whiskers out, it stalked and scrutinised, climbing higher to the edge of its realm, until it reached the last of the day and sat in the sanctity of night, listening to the empty moor behind, surveying all below and fearing none above. Not even the up-lit white of the circling owl, its competitor and nightly companion, vigilant, silent and deadly.

Beneath, its equal, the fox crouched low and watched a spectral shape of lighter against darker appear from lower down. It spread around a figure hastening towards its hunting ground, the marred masonry of man, and the fox’s hackles rose in defiance of the intrusion. Forehead furrowed, a growl in its throat, it readied its voice, but no sound came.

As deftly as it had darted, the light died among the shifts and shapes of flint and granite, until the last speck of trespass had melted into the earth, and there was nothing left of the night but the owl high above, and the fox contemplating the business of its nightly hunt.

On Friday you can catch another preview on fellow author, Ofelia Grand’s website. I will be her guest blogger, hope to see you there!

For now it’s time for another cup of tea and back to my boys, have a good day, Jack

Narrating as the Villain

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

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

Narrating From the Villain’s Pont Of View

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

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

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

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

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

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

2          Build tension and increase the threat

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

4          Explain conflict backstory

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

How I Write From the Villain’s Point of View

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

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

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

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

Knowing More Than the Hero

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

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

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

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

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

Adding Depth to Your Storytelling Via the Villain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work in Progress 2.3

Chester Cadman: A New Character at Larkspur

In this week’s update, I can tell you that Larkspur Four is currently at 28,000 words of its first draft, or chapter eight of a novel which is building in a file I’ve called ‘Chester Cadman.’ That’s not the title of the book, it’s the name of the main character. He’s a newbie to the Clearwater world and the Larkspur Academy, and comes with an interesting history that’s already led me to plenty of research.

That research has, so far, included mesmerism, seances and other related mysteries, The Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, and mapmaking and cartography in 1890s. Also on my list for background reading is the political situation in Egypt at that time.

All I can tell you about Larkspur Four right now is that it revolves around sightings of a medieval serving girl wandering through the grounds and ruined church. An apparition from the past which has been reported over the centuries, and a mystery that needs investigating.

While that’s going on, we’re introduced to a few new characters, while the main Clearwater men are elsewhere, apart from Thomas Payne who has been left to run the hall. Some of the newer Larkspur characters are still about, with Fleet, Frank and Clem at Academy House (along with Dalston and Joe for the time being), while at the Hall, Nancarrow and the newer footmen and others play supporting roles.

But Chester Cadman is my main man on this one, and being handsome, enigmatic and in need of friendship, attracts Frank’s attention – of course. Frank is going to be there right by his side, loyal, desperate to be loving and, maybe, destined to be disappointed. We shall have to wait and see.

I will be back on Saturday with a regular blogpost. In the meantime, on Thursday I will be the guest at fellow MM author, Elle Keaton’s facebook group. Join us at Highway to Elle for chatter and a giveaway, hope to see you there!

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

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

Uploading to Amazon

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

One. Write the Book.

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

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

Preparing to Upload to Amazon

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

Front and Backmatter

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

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

Front and backmatter are two sperate Word doc files.

Formatting a Book for Amazon

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

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

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

And Back to the Amazon Upload

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

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

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

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

And After Amazon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work In Progress 2.2

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

Larkspur Notes

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

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

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

You are getting sleeepppyyyy

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

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

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

Agents of The Truth: Cover Reveal

‘Agents of the Truth’ is nearly ready for publication. I am aiming for next weekend, 5th or 6th February for it to be live on Amazon. You will find the cover reveal at the bottom of this post along with the blurb and a section of the author’s notes to whet your appetite.

When I started on the Larkspur Series, I intended each book to concentrate on an individual new character and an independent mystery. Well, that went the way of the dodo, and books one to three turned out to be a trilogy. This happened for a couple of reasons. One, I fell in love with Dalston Blaze and Joe Tanner. Two, the mystery Dalston was brought to the academy to solve turned out to be too big for just one book. Actually, one mystery is dealt with in book one, but in doing so, a second mystery arises, and that’s what sees us through book two. By the time that finishes, there’s still an unanswered question, and that’s what drives book three.
So, before ‘Agents of the Truth’ comes out, I thought you might like an outline of books one and two, just to remind you of the story so far, or tempt you to start the series if you’ve not yet read it.

Guardians of the Poor (The Larkspur Mysteries Book One)

Starting in the cells of Newgate prison and a courtroom at the Old Bailey, Guardians introduces the reader to the Larkspur Academy through the eyes of Dalston Blaze. Dalston (named after where he was born) travels to Larkspur Hall, where he meets Lord Clearwater who asks him to investigate mysterious symbols carved into ancient standing stones on the Larkspur estate.
As well as meeting other characters at the academy, including the eccentric genius, Barbary Fleet, Dalston and the reader experience the house and grounds and learn some of the history of the Hall and the area. However, he has a mystery of his own, and as he gradually reveals his past to Clearwater, so he exposes himself to self-examination in what is essentially a coming-of-age story.
Dalston’s personal mystery takes us back to where he was brought up, the infamous Hackney Workhouse, where we meet Joe Tanner and learn of a dark secret Dalston and Joe need to expose.
With two mysteries running concurrently, and only one solved by the end of the book, the way is paved for a continuation, and that is book two.

Keepers of the Past (The Larkspur Mysteries Book Two)

The mystery of the standing stones is not yet fully understood, but now we have Joe Tanner in the picture. Joe is deaf and incredibly intelligent, and, since coming to live at Larkspur, allowed to be himself and his talents encouraged, he begins to investigate a mystery of his own. The coming-of-age element continues as Joe and Dalston’s relationship is able to develop, freed from the strictures of the workhouse. But, the course of true love never runs smoothly. With the pressures inherent in deafness, a secret relationship and adapting to a new life, Joe retreats into himself to solve his mystery.
While doing so, it becomes apparent that a series of murders over the past eight years not only have a connection to various ancient sites on Bodmin Moor but also to Larkspur Hall. Joe is convinced there is to be another, and with Fleet’s mentoring, and empowered by the academy to believe in himself, he sets about solving a very complicated riddle.
By the end of this story, Dalston’s original mystery might be solved, but another question arises: Who has committed the murders? That’s the mystery that leads us into book three.

Agents of the Truth (The Larkspur Mysteries Book Three)

In book one, we got to know Dalston Blaze. In book two, we learn much about Joe Tanner. In book three, we see them working together, although it is Dalston who, through no fault of his own, is left to put the puzzle pieces together.
Again, I have gone for a double mystery, and the story centres around Larkspur Hall and Clearwater House as Dalston and Joe head to London to solve clues. While there, they meet well-known archaeologists and painters, while, at Larkspur, Lord Clearwater prepares for a royal visit. Meanwhile, a shadowy figure from Clearwater’s past prepares to return…

The Blurb for ‘Agents of the Truth’:

“Despite your adversities, Mr Blaze, you remain unbroken because of who you are, not what you can or cannot do.”

Mrs Norwood, October 1890

Shakespeare, the Bible, Edgar Allan Poe… What could a series of random quotes have to do with a masked ball and eight unsolved murders?

Archer, Lord Clearwater, is hosting a masquerade at Larkspur Hall, and Prince Albert Victor is the guest of honour. The vitally important event is miles away from London, where Jimmy Wright has enlisted the help of Dalston Blaze and Joe Tanner in solving two mysteries: Who has been sending Archer cryptic notes, and who has murdered eight men on Bodmin Moor?

Dalston finds himself the only one who can solve both riddles, but self-doubt, his concerns for Joe, and his newly found admiration for Jimmy Wright are obstacles he must overcome if he is to prevent Lord Clearwater’s downfall.

But, what if the killer isn’t after His Lordship? What if the plan is to assassinate the prince? Or worse, someone much closer to Dalston’s heart?

Notes from the author

For this series, I am adding author’s notes to the end of the book. In the past, readers have asked me for information about some of the historical facts in the Clearwater Mysteries, so I decided to put these notes in purely out of interest. The other day, my author friend, Elle Keaton said she is immediately drawn to a book that has ‘archaeologist’ in its blurb, and as ‘Agents’ introduces us to three from the past, I thought this extract from the notes might be of interest.

From the author’s notes:
[While in the British Museum Reading Room in October 1890…] Dalston meets Samuel John Carter, father of the famed archaeologist, Howard Carter who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1822. Samuel Carter was an artist and illustrator, and in 1890, Howard would have been sixteen, and was already showing a talent for sketching antiquities. That pursuit was encouraged by Lady Amhurst of Norfolk (as Stoker tells us in his letter), and, in 1891, she prompted the Egypt Exploration Fund to send him to the excavation of Beni Hasan in Middle Egypt. In 1892, when he was eighteen, Howard Carter worked with Flinders Petrie.
Joe and Dalston not only meet the Carters, but also two renowned archaeologists and Egyptologists, Flinders Petrie (1853 to 1942) and Margaret Murray (1863 to 1963). Petrie was already established in the field by that date, but Murray didn't begin her Egyptian studies until 1894 when she attended University College London, so I took a slight liberty there. However, her department head at UCL was Flanders Petrie, so again, it’s not impossible they used the Reading Room at the same time.

The cover reveal

And now, the cover reveal. Again, Andjela has come up with a masterpiece that evokes the atmosphere of the story while highlighting two elements from the plot.
Click the image to open the cover in a new window.


The Larkspur Mysteries Book Four

As yet untitled, I can tell you that Book Four starts with Dalston Blaze bringing a new character to the Academy. The first sequence is a bridge between books three and four, but from then on, we have a whole new mystery, a new lead character, a love story and, of course, plenty of complications, facts and fiction combined, some humour and an adventure. There are also to be plenty of surprises… But that’s another story…


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

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

The Complete Clearwater Mysteries