WIP Blog Six: Newgate Prison

WIP Blog Six: Newgate Prison

Before we get to today’s WIP update, here’s some great news. I have been nominated in ten categories in this year’s GoodReads Awards.

If you head to my FaceBook page, you will find all the nominations listed, plus links to where you can cast your votes. there are also links at the bottom of this post. I think you have to sign in to GoodReads (free) to vote, but it won’t take you long, and you can vote for as many titles as you want. It’s also great to see Andjela nominated for the best cover for ‘Guardians of the Poor.’ This has been possible thanks to my readers and members of GoodReads, and it’s got my day off to the perfect start.

Now, though, I must take you back in time and to another prison…

Yesterday, I was researching Newgate Prison. This was for a scene in ‘Agents of the Truth’, the third Larkspur Mystery, currently in its first draft (just over halfway through). I found a very useful website (link below) that shows a collection of the very few available photos of Newgate from the late 18th century. With the rain blustering in, and the temperature here dropping, and with true horror stories to read on websites and in the National Newspaper Archives, it was something of a dismal, yet fascinating day.

In the story, two characters are tracking down a third who was in Newgate Prison before and after a trial at the Old Bailey in 1889. You might remember that a week ago I was researching Millbank Prison, also in London, and that venue has yet to play its part, but it will soon. Victorian prisons were not pleasant places, as you might imagine. Prison reform took a long time to come about, and Newgate didn’t close until 1902. During the Clearwater period, it was mainly used for those awaiting trial at the Old Bailey, so I wasn’t able to keep my character there for long after sentencing; hence, Milbank comes into play in the next chapter.

For those who like the character of the barrister, Creswell, you’ll be pleased to note that he makes a cameo appearance in ‘Agents of the Truth.’ It’s only a short appearance, but it was as exhausting to write as it would have been to live through. The man simply does not stand still. He is as physically active as his mind, but still as brilliant and quick as before, and his appearance gives us a little light relief from the slowly building tension while remaining pertinent to the plot.

Plan of Newgate Prison 1880

So, that’s where I am at right now, 61,000 words and over the halfway hurdle, heading towards the last few days of the timeline, with things happening the reader knows about, but the characters don’t. That’s a fine old storytelling technique and used to make the story more compelling. I’m pleased to say, I am compelled to write more, so I will leave you with the link to Peter Berthoud’s handy blog, Discovering London, which is now bookmarked in my research folder because of his collection of old photos and his knowledge. Take a look, and if you’re in London, perhaps even take one of his guided tours. The page about Newgate Prison is here.


If you would like to vote for me and my books then please hurry over to the polls and cast your vote! You do need to be a Goodreads M/M Romance member but it is easy to sign up and then you will have access to the polls. I will post more details on Saturday. I hope to see you then.

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

Researching and the Larkspur Mystery Series

Researching and the Larkspur Mystery Series

Hi everyone,

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

What are the Larkspur Mysteries to be?

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

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

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

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

Anyway…

What is the First Story?

LLoyd’s Weekly London Newspaper June 1st 1890

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

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

The Hackney Workhouse.

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

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

And so it went on.

Inside the Hackney Workhouse, stone-breaking yard.

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

Workhouse Children, Dalston Blaze when young.

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

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

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


Lord Bastion Announces

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

Jackson

Lord Bastion Announces
Jackson Marsh

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

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…’

Available on Amazon

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.

Researching for Historical Fiction: Victorian London

Researching for Historical Fiction: Victorian London

In this week’s blog, I thought I would share some of my notes on how I’ve been researching my historical fiction series, The Clearwater Mysteries.

My Clearwater ‘bible’ and some research.

Let’s start with the obvious question. “What is historical fiction?” Now, let’s reply with the obvious answer. “Historical Fiction is a literary genre in which the plot takes place in a setting located in the past.” Clearly, that’s not yesterday, but some time further back, and in my case, we’re talking about Victorian times, specifically 1888 and 1889, and even more specifically, England, London in particular.

So, what do I know about Britain 130 years ago? History at school was either 1066, The Tudors, or the Arab-Israeli conflict of the 1960s, not really much help. I do, however, have an interest in Jack the Ripper (1888), have read a few books around the subject and the times, but, until recently, that was as far as my knowledge stretched.

Not the best foundations on which to build a historical fiction series set in the late Victorian period, so, what’s the answer?

Here is a tip: The answer is always research.

You don’t have to be an emeritus professor of literature and history to write historical fiction and, despite what someone might have told you, you don’t have to write about what you know. Tom Clancy didn’t know anything about submarines when he wanted to write ‘The Hunt for Red October’, so what did he do? He researched. Similarly, all I knew about life in Victorian London was from watching TV shows and films, which are not always the most accurate of study tools, nor are some documentaries. So, what did I do?

‘You researched.’
Good, you’re paying attention, but how did I do it, and can I offer any tips for anyone else wanting to write historical fiction? Rather, anyone who wants to write it well? I accept I am not (yet) in the same league as Hilary Mantel or Ken Follett, but whatever I am doing seems to be working. Coming into the genre untrained, as it were, I can also offer some examples of where I’ve gone wrong which may help you avoid the same pitfalls.

So, here are a few of my tips on making your historical fiction more accurate, and, as we’re talking about London in the 1800s, we’ll start at the Ohio State University in 2015.

I found a page on their website that summarised an article, ‘7 Elements of Historical Fiction‘ by author, M.K. Todd, and here, in brief, is my interpretation of those seven elements, with some notes on how I deal with them in the Clearwater Mysteries, set in the late 1880s.

Characters, real or imaginary, must act appropriately to the time.

I am writing about upstairs/downstairs life at Clearwater House and Larkspur Hall, and one thing Archer, Lord Clearwater, would love to do, is treat his servants as his friends. Simply put, he can’t, or at least, he can’t be seen by the outside world to do so, because it simply wasn’t done. That wasn’t how it worked, though there are records of noblemen treating their staff well, even having consensual affairs with, or marrying staff. So, what does Archer do? He promotes them, makes his lover his private secretary, his best friend, his butler, and, in the case of James Wright, makes him a businessman.

My tip here is not to push what was ‘the done thing’ too far, although I do it by making Archer an overly generous man, which, in turn, causes resentment from his peers, and thus gives me some juicy conflict to inject into what are generally feel-good stories.

Dialogue should be accessible to today’s reader with enough about it to appear real for the time.

Yeah, well, okay, but, you know… whatever. Recently, I realised I had used the word ‘okay’ in dialogue in a couple of the Clearwater books, but I am gradually editing out that and other time-inappropriate words. The word okay didn’t come into use until the mid-20th century. Similarly, it’s unlikely anyone said whatever in the way we hear it on TV now, so it’s not just words we must be aware of but turns of phrase. Similarly, many of my characters are gay, but they can’t be, because homosexuality wasn’t in usage until after 1900, and gay, even later, so those words are out.

Tip: If you want to check the usage of a word against your era, Google the word’s definition, and you will find the online dictionary gives the etymology and a convenient graph of instances of usage and popularity. If the graph is flatlining in your era, don’t use that word in dialogue.

Setting. The reader should be placed in the setting of the time from the start, and fall deeper into it as the story goes on.

Putting the date at the top of the first chapter is handy. I first did this in ‘Unspeakable Acts’, the third in the series, and I did it as part of a newspaper headline. The article that followed, written in a style inspired by newspapers of the time, also set up the place and background to the story. It also adds another layer of realism to the book.

That’s another trick I use from time to time, adding in realistic newspaper articles in the correct style as they can give the reader not only a feel for the time, but information and background which might otherwise sound clunky in the narrative. Bram Stoker did this masterfully in Dracula.

Themes must be explored within the context of the time.

The theme of the Clearwater Mysteries is male bonding, which we can then break down into bromance, gay relationships and acceptance of homosexuality. Or, if you like, the theme is about how my gay men survived at a time when prejudice was rife and homosexuality illegal. At the heart of the series is a set of characters who must survive being illegal and unacceptable, a state that surrounds their personal conflicts and happiness. I believe that, as the series develops, the reader takes in the theme subliminally and that heightens the romances and platonic friendships, giving us more fulfilling feel-good moments. You could use this theme in stories set in any era, but the pressures that bear on the characters will vary according to time and place.

Plot must be historically viable of course, and will be shaped by events of the time.

Some of my plots revolve around fictionalised real events, such as the Ripper murders of 1888 (in my case, the victims being rent boys, not women). Other mystery plots in the series involve real people of the time such as Stoker and Irving, places of the time, such as the Royal Opera House, employment such as telegram messenger boys and servants, and even real ships and trains. You’ll see in ‘One of a Pair’ (due out next weekend), there are references to chemicals and medical research that existed in 1889 but were called different names then, and genuine poisoning cases. Even the Adriatic sail-steamer of the White Star Line gets a look-in and description, but the 1871 ship that was replaced with a more famous steamer in 1906, and all travel details in the story are taken from timetables of September 1889, exactly when the story is set. Oh, and many of the laws referred to in ‘Artful Deception’ are, or were, real.

Conflicts must be appropriate to time and place.

Archer’s conflict (wanting his servants to be his friends) is time appropriate, and the gay characters living in times when homosexuality was illegal, are time appropriate, as are the troubles in Andrej (Fecker’s) Ukraine. There are other conflicts, such as Silas and Andrej surviving the streets of the East End by becoming rent boys, because many people turned to prostitution to survive. Other conflicts in the series include Mrs Norwood divorcing her cheating husband without losing her respectability, and Jasper’s treatment at the hands of Earl Kingsclere, which he can do nothing about.

World building. Readers must live in a world of your time beyond your story.

I take this as meaning, you can’t just tell a romantic story in a drawing room, one afternoon in late spring, not unless you are putting on a dodgy amateur dramatic play. The Clearwater world ranges from the intimate, i.e. Archer’s dressing room where his valet dresses him, to the wider world of the servants’ hall below stairs and their everyday life in service. It also ranges from the house to the city around it, and on to the country, and in ‘Artful Deception’, even to Europe. But it’s not just a case of location, there are also things like attitudes, religion, politics, beliefs, manner, etiquette and costume, all of which must be appropriate to the period. These things impact on the behaviour and attitudes of characters both major and minor, and their inclusion, makes the story more believable.

So, how do you achieve all that?
The answer, again, is and always will be, research, which brings me on to a few more tips and recommendations.

Be wary of documentaries.
I was watching an esteemed TV presenter narrating a respectable British series on the Victorians and chatting away knowledgeably about the state of London streets in 1870. One clip they ran showed cars driving around Piccadilly Circus. Er, maybe several years later post 1892, but certainly not in 1870. As the programme didn’t say when the clip was from, it was misleading.

Tip: I watch documentaries and make notes about dates and events, people mentioned and so on, and then double-check them elsewhere, just to be sure.

Read books
Other people’s historical fiction, yes, but again, I’d still check for accuracy unless I’m reading Hilary Mantel or someone I really trust – no offence to fellow writers.

As you can see from the photos, I have a wealth of books on my shelves that cover Victorian architecture, life in stately homes, books on 19th-century fashion, and in particular, ones written by scholars or people of the times. (Tip: Sketches by Boz, Charles Dickens, is a good place to start, especially for the 1830s.) I also have a fair few railway timetables, maps and dictionaries of rhyming slang, dialects and the etymology of words. I love buying books, but when I need a quick-fix fact-check, I download to Kindle as it’s much quicker than waiting for a delivery.

Use the internet wisely
Double-check everything. Don’t take Wikipedia as gospel, it’s much better to search out specialist sites.

Dictionary of Victorian London (click to go to the site)

On which note, I want to finish by pointing you towards The Victorian Dictionary. This invaluable archive was compiled by the author, Lee Jackson, a writer of fiction and fact, some of whose books are also on my shelves. This website has become my first go-to place for research because it gives examples of the time. For example, there are descriptions by writers who visited the London Docks in 18-whenever or saw the depravity of the East End first-hand. Similarly, there are snippets from newspapers and periodicals and other writings of the time about all aspects of life. It has a searchable database with subject headings too, and a bibliography. There’s even a database of Victorian slang which I love to dip into. (It’s mainly from around London as the site is actually http://www.victorianlondon.org/) I’ll do that now and leave you with a couple of random words that you might want to use in dialogue when appropriate to your characters.

Tulips of the goes – the highest order of fashionables
Romoners – fellows pretending to be acquainted with the occult sciences, fortune tellers
Bender – a shilling
Diddle cover – the landlord of a gin shop

I could go on, but I’ve already gone on long enough. My last tip would be, when thinking about writing historical fiction, do your research and make it fun. I have learnt so much over the past couple of years, I am now at the point of being able to insult people without them having a clue what I’ve said!

I will see you next week with details about the next release, ‘One of a Pair’ the Clearwater Mysteries Book Eight.

Coming Next: One of a Pair

Coming Next: One of a Pair

This week, I’m giving you a cover release, or at least, a draft cover release because it’s not quite finished yet. I also want to whet your appetite for the story – without giving away any spoilers.

The next book in the Clearwater Mysteries series is called ‘One of a Pair’ and it follows on from ‘Home From Nowhere’, starting about six weeks after that story finished. For those who enjoyed the start of Jasper’s story in ‘Home’ (and the feedback suggests that was everyone), you’ll be pleased to know that it continues in ‘One of a Pair.’

Now then, I can’t give too much away, but ‘One’ is a mystery, though not in the same vein as the earlier action-led mysteries like ‘Fallen Splendour’ or ‘Artful Deception.’ This is a calmer mystery, though still with tension, and a race to beat the clock. Our lead character is James Wright, now a private investigator in his own right. Here is part of the blurb for the back cover:

Enlisting the brilliant but scatter-brained Dr Markland for help while mentoring Jasper through the pain of first love, James embarks on a mystery that takes him from the Greychurch morgue to Queenstown in Ireland where tide and time wait for no man. It is a journey of discovery, both scientific and emotional.

I had great fun writing this one because it involves a suspected poisoning. Not that someone being poisoned is fun, but researching poisoning in Victorian times was. The fun part was finding something that was not your standard 19th-century toxin (and I can’t tell you what those were without spoiling the story for you), and I turned to my brother for help. My brother, by the way, is not a poisoner, but he was a chemist, as in, someone who works with chemicals. My nephew was of great help too as he studied medical genetics, and from that, you can see where the scientists are in our family! They were of great help in identifying the more unusual and little-known facts about certain chemicals and helped me put some of the scientific parts of ‘One of a Pair’ together. My problem was then finding out what such things were called in 1889 when the story is set. All I can tell you is that much of what you read is factual, or at least, possible, but some of the chemical names I have used are made up.

Don’t think that ‘One’ is going to be all formulas and compounds, it’s not. I have injected some humour into the story, as well as love and ‘ah’ moments, pace and tension. You’ll find Thomas isn’t too happy about… something, Mrs Norwood is playing ‘mother’ to the boys, Dr Markland shows his genius, and there’s a fair amount of domestic detail below-stairs at Clearwater House. As usual, I turned to another friend of mine for train journey details and all things railways, and the timings are accurate based on his ancient copy of Bradshaw’s Railways Timetables, as are the details about the White Star Line and their liners.

Enough about the story, back to the cover. I thought about this for a long time because I wanted to show a representation of one of the characters. I’m never sure whether this is a good idea, because every reader forms their own image of what the characters look like, and to put one so obviously on the cover can distract the imagination. I did it for ‘Deviant Desire’ where you can clearly see Archer and Silas, and the same model appears as Silas on the cover of ‘Unspeakable Acts.’ For other covers, Andjela K, my cover designer, has used silhouettes, so for ‘Twisted Tracks’ we see Archer and Silas running for a train, ‘Fallen Splendour’ shows a man on a charger, and the man could be Archer or Fecker. The cover of ‘Bitter Bloodline’ shows the back of Dorjan, the assassin, and ‘Artful Deception’ shows a man on fire, but we can’t see his face. ‘Home From Nowhere’ is obviously Jasper and Billy up on the roof, but we don’t see their faces, but for ‘One of a Pair’ I thought we should see Jasper… or is it someone else? The image isn’t yet finished because the chap on the front should be holding a smoking test tube which Andjela K hasn’t yet fitted in, but otherwise, it’s there.

Before you scroll down to the cover image, if you haven’t already, I just want to let you know that ‘One of a Pair’ is going off for proof reading on September 10th, and that means, it should be available around the 24th, maybe sooner. You’ll know when it’s available from my Facebook page, and you can always sign up to the newsletter to get more news. I send out a newsletter each month to keep in touch with everyone, and unlike other authors, I don’t use them to advertise everyone else’s books, only my own, so there is also a newsletter when a release happens.

And finally… The cover as it stands now.

One of a Pair

One of a Pair, the Clearwater Mysteries, book eight, draft cover

Ps. I had to disable comments on the blog/site because of spammers, but if you have any comments about the cover or anything else, feel free to put them on my Facebook page.

 

 

Mindset and Language in Historical Romantic Fiction

Mindset and Language in Historical Romantic Fiction
19th Vs 21st Century in The Clearwater Mysteries

Deviant Desire, The Clearwater Mysteries book one

This week, I read a blog post titled ‘How do you read historical romance?‘ written by Joanna Chambers, author of MM Romance novels such as ‘Unnatural’ and the ‘Enlightenment’ series. I found the post of great interest and very well written, and a paragraph towards the end made me wonder about my own historical fiction.

Joanna’s post first discusses what makes a reader exercise willing suspension of disbelief (a phrase coined by Samuel Coleridge, a fact I never knew until reading the post). Later, she talks about the mindsets of characters, and we’re talking about historical fiction here, remember, not contemporary. The part of the blog post that made me stop and think was this:

I will admit to not much liking characters who appear to have wholly 21st-century mindsets and who seem not to struggle at all with being at odds with the society they live in. I like to see the characters in historical romances having to wrestle with the norms of their time…”

I stopped and thought, ‘Do mine do that?’

I mean, do my Clearwater characters have 21st-century mindsets and do they struggle with the norms of their time? I asked this because I have read historical fiction, both MM romance and not, and have put books down after a couple of chapters because a) the language doesn’t fit the period, and b) the mindset doesn’t fit the period, and sometimes c) because there were too many clichés, but that’s another matter. Knowing that I’ve been critical of others’ work, I started to wonder if I was a pot calling out a kettle (to carefully ‘PC’ a phrase attributed to Don Quixote, and later, an anonymous poem published in a magazine in 1876), and I had a think about how I have written the Clearwater Mysteries.

Do my characters have a 21st-century mindset?

Well, yes and no. When writing the books, I am always aware of what surrounds the characters, and I mean not only the landscapes but the politics, the expected norms and the etiquette. They are the ‘shell’ that encloses all characters, particularly those who exist either side of the baize door. As Thomas (Payne, the butler) calls it, ‘The great divide.’

And there’s where my 21st mindset comes in. Archer (Lord Clearwater) and Thomas grew up together, they are a similar age, Thomas came into service at eight and Archer was allowed to befriend him when his authoritarian father was absent. The friendship they formed back then grew and came perilously close to a teenage love affair. By then, Thomas was a footman, and Archer was the Honourable Archer Riddington, so the gay thing aside, a friendship should have been out of the question.

Even when Archer takes the title of viscount, he is still held back by the ‘great divide’, although one wonders if Tom and Archer shouldn’t be the couple living together in love. That can never happen because of the expected norms of the time. A butler and viscount being so personally close was definitely not expected in the later 19th century.

But two men being friends (possibly more) is entirely within the mindset of MM Romance, or, as the Clearwater Mysteries are, romantic MM fiction.

Archer’s liberal views are progressive, and his perfect world would be one without this upstairs/downstairs divide. He treats his servants as friends, and if he had his way, there would be no baize door.

I think what I am trying to say is, if characters in the novels spoke and behaved exactly as expected in 1888/1889, there would be little or no room for what holds the Clearwater Mysteries together; the bonding and friendships between the characters, particularly the men.

Take the relationship between Silas Hawkins and James Wright, for example. Read book four, ‘Fallen Splendour’, and you would be forgiven for thinking that what these two young men have is a ‘bromance’, a word that only came into use in the past ten years, and one which does not even appear in my 2006 OED. So, it’s not a word I could use in the stories, and it wouldn’t have been a ‘mindset’ of the time. It’s my job as an author, to convey the emotion and state of ‘bromance’ so the reader can relate and engage, but without the characters actually calling their friendship a bromance.

Which brings me on to language

Joanna’s post also made me think about language. There are two languages in my novels, that of the narrator and that of the characters in dialogue.

My characters speak with today’s attitudes (so readers can relate), and yet in a language that is appropriate to the period. In book eight (due out later in September), Jasper Blackwood behaves like today’s typical teenager, except he spends his time playing a piano not an Xbox, but his language is period-appropriate. For example, when James is trying to understand Jasper’s teenage sulk, Jasper says, “As I see it, Mr Wright, an older gentleman has me trapped in my bedroom, and he is inappropriately dressed. Some would consider this improper.’ James doesn’t have him trapped, but he is wearing a dressing gown, and if this was a modern scene, Jasper would be far less polite!

Language is where we have to be careful. While rereading one of the earlier stories in the series, I was horrified to see a character use the word ‘Okay.’ I was sure I’d checked this usage, but further research proved that the word didn’t come into use until around 1926. Oops! I am continually checking words and phrases to make sure they were in use in the late 19th century, and sometimes have to change the dialogue to fit. Researching chemistry and medical matters for book eight (‘One Of A Pair’, due out at the end of September) proved interesting as I was dealing with a batrachotoxin which, after consulting with my brother, a chemist, I learned was a phrase only coined in the 1960s, so that was out. I invented a term of my own instead.

What I try to do with my Clearwater mindset and language is to engage the reader with a modern mindset while telling a story set in the past. Contemporary attitudes are present, so the reader doesn’t feel detached from the characters and places, but they are bound by time-appropriate situations and expectations. Hopefully, nothing grates as being to 21st century, while the language remains free of Victorian clutter, though believable, allowing the reader to suspend their disbelief and get on with enjoying a good, romantic adventure.

I know I have wandered from Joanna’s original points, and if you want to read the article that inspired this post, you can find it here: How do you read historical romance?

Joanna Chambers
Blog https://joannachambers.com/
Author page UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Joanna-Chambers/e/B00MB8JFDM/

Hot and busy here in Greece

Hot and busy here in Greece

My husband took this the other day at sunrise

Yesterday was July 1st. The temperature in the courtyard, in the shade, was 28 degrees at 6.30 in the morning. The day before, it had reached 36 at four in the afternoon, in the shade in the courtyard. For those who don’t know, I live on a Greek island (hence the photos). It relies on tourism to survive, but so far this year, we’ve had no-one visit. That’s starting to change now, and hopefully, local businesses will be able to start picking up the pieces. Meanwhile…

My latest story, ‘Artful Deception‘ was published last month (“I think this is one of the best in the series.” Amazon review), and the next one, ‘Home From Nowhere’ is about to go off to the proofreader, and should be out by the end of this month. Meanwhile, I have started tinkering with a new novel, another in the on-going Clearwater saga set in 1889.

To that end, I now have a shelf of books about the period including books about Jack the Ripper (1888), clothing and costume of the 19th century, real accounts from those living below and above stairs, Mr Beeton’s book of household management, a few more books about being in service, stately homes (including floor plans), and books about the railways with maps. I think I need a new bookshelf. I also have a couple more books on the way, one more about costume, a dictionary of Cockney rhyming slang with notes on whether the slang is new or old, 20th century or earlier. What I need to look at next is arsenic poisoning. Well, you have to, don’t you?

Draft cover

As for ‘Home From Nowhere’, this is a slightly different Clearwater novel. I thought it was about time we saw the characters from someone else’s point of view and found out what affect Archer’s generosity has on other people. There is a mystery. It comes in the shape of Jasper Blackwood, who you would have met briefly in ‘Artful Deception’ at Kingsclere House. Typical of me, the mystery revolves around music and messages from the past, and the ‘crew’ are the ones to solve it. This means we see Archer, Tom, James and Silas at work in their detecting venture while learning about what goes on below stairs with the other servants, mainly Jasper. Another new character is also introduced, Billy Barnett, and as you will see when the new book is out (hopefully later this month), Jasper and Billy will be an on-going feature for another book or so, at least.

Our home – on the right.

Anyway, I don’t want to give too much away, just to say, I am having so much fun writing these tales that I intend to carry on, even if the series runs to ten or more, I’ll keep going until the time feels right to stop. Although I won’t rule out pausing now and then to write something different, as I did earlier this year with ‘The Students of Barrenmoor Ridge’, which, I am pleased to say, continues to do well.

That’s it for now. Stay safe wherever you are, remember to like and follow on Facebook and leave reviews where you can, drop me a line if you’ve got anything you want to say or ask, and look after yourselves. Right! Now I am heading back to September 1889 because I have Clearwater book eight to think about, and it’s time we had a poisoning…

Home From Nowhere

Home From Nowhere

Hello everyone. I thought it was about time for another blog post, just to check in and let you know what I am up to.

As usual, I have been writing. In this case, I have been working on a new Clearwater mystery, ‘Home From Nowhere’ (book seven). I don’t know how long a series is meant to go on for, but I am enjoying writing this one, so I’m carrying on regardless. However, I felt the murder and mayhem, wild adventures and on-going battles of the Clearwater Crew needed a breather, so book number seven will be different.

This chap reminded me of Thomas Payne, Archer’s best friend and butler.

I thought it was time we saw the crew from someone else’s point of view, and experienced life at Clearwater House from a new character’s perspective. So, ‘Home From Nowhere’ breaks from the two-word titles from the past and starts us on a different kind of mystery; no ‘meet a deadline or be dead’, no nasty villain, just a gentle mystery and the start of a love story that will continue in part eight. The sort of story you can put your feet up and relax with, and come away from with a sense of feel-good, like watching an episode of Downton Abbey.

This doesn’t mean there’s no mystery to solve, and Archer, James and Silas are the ones to take the mystery and work out the clues, but they are doing it on behalf of the new character who, if you have read ‘Artful Deception‘ you would have briefly met at Kingsclere House.

As usual, I have mixed real people, times, events and facts with some fictional ones, and there is a background theme, in this case, it’s music.

‘Home From Nowhere’ is currently in draft one stage, which means I’ve told myself the story on paper and now need to rest it for a few days before I return to it and a) check the mystery ties up, b) check consistency generally, c) see to as many of my typos as I can find, and d) improve, edit and cut.

Clearwater House ground floor (click to enlarge)

Meanwhile, my cover designer is working on a cover image and, to give myself a break from typing, I set about drawing a floorplan of Clearwater House. As you will see, I am no technical drawer or architect, though I based some of the details on a book I have that gives floorplans and elevations of Victorian houses – none of which fitted Clearwater House exactly. I doubt that if a house was built to my plans, it would stay up for very long! Still, I thought I would share my amateur attempt to give you an idea of how I see the house laid out (sorry about it being a bit squiffy and blotted with smudged felt-tip pen). I’ve only done the ground and first floors so far, I still have the basement and top floor to go. The shaded areas are the servant’s department, the backstairs and servery etc.

Clearwater House 1st floor plan (click to enlarge)

As for other news… Over here in Greece, the island on which I live is very quiet. We are starting to see a few tourists arrive, and we have had no cases of you-know-what, so people are worried about visitors coming from more infected countries. My husband, Neil, is working back at the bar he looks after seven afternoons per week until October, but so far, has had only local customers, while I am carrying on as usual, at home, writing. Which is what I will get back to now.

There’s no definite release date for ‘Home From Nowhere’ yet, I’ve only just let ‘Artful Deception’ out of its cage, but I am going to try and be more regular with my blog posting, so there will be updates as we head deeper into the year.

Stay safe, stay well and most of all, stay reading (and putting up helpful reviews on Amazon and social media if you possibly can).

Thank you for reading
Jackson

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Thank you, suzunh, for the 1st review of ‘Artful Deception’

I love this series
Reviewed in the United States on June 15, 2020
All of them are good. Sure, they’re a little wild sometimes but they are a heck of a lot of fun. I like that the same characters return for every book and I’m excited they are going into business together. Can’t wait to read the next one.