Work In Progress: 5.16

The end of the line.

This morning, I received the final layout files from Other Worlds Ink, so The Larkspur Legacy is ready to go. Only three more days and I will upload it to Amazon, and the Kindle version should then go live on Saturday night/Sunday morning (GMT + 2).

Before that, you can find out more about OtherWorldsInk and their services, because we’re arranging a chat with them for Saturday’s blog. They arrange blog tours and publicity, do book formatting and cover design and are a great help to me. I’ve used them since ‘Negative Exposure’, and now no longer have to spend hours setting out my pages and doing the best I can, because they do it for me. More about that on Saturday.

As for the next work in progress,

I have already begun on The Clearwater Companion by gathering my notes, cuts, excerpts, images, and other ideas. Right now, I am typing up the notes from my bible (series notebook). We may not use all of them, but as long as I have them all in one digital place, I’ll be able to work with them much more easily. It’s a pretty thankless task, but a couple of hours a day and I should have both large notebooks transcribed in a month, and I can then set about seeing what’s what.

Meanwhile, look out for The Larkspur Legacy, the series finale to the Larkspur and Clearwater books. You should be able to get it from Kindle on Sunday (the print version may take a day or two longer to appear).

Proof Reader. Proof-reader. Proofreader?

Proofing a book and making it ready for publication.

The Larkspur Legacy, the last in the Larkspur Mystery series, is now being layed out and when that’s done, it will be ready for publication next weekend. Meanwhile, I thought I’d have a look at the blurb and talk a little about the proofreading stage. As you can see from the title, I’m never sure whether I should write proofreader or proof-reader, or even proof reader. And that’s why I have one. More about that in a moment, first the blurb.

The Larkspur Legacy full blurb reads like this:

The Larkspur Legacy

The Larkspur Mysteries

Book Seven

Jackson Marsh

‘Lord Clearwater, the Larkspur Academy has forged a bond among its men that will last long after they have left us and made their own way in the world. You are to be commended for the enterprise, but you should not be surprised by it.’

Barbary Fleet, December 1891

Henry Hope lies in a coma, and Lord Clearwater’s hunt for his mother’s secret treasure is on hold. But when a new clue comes to light, Clearwater and the academy men resume their greatest adventure. It is also to be their most dangerous.

With murderous enemies behind, the unknown ahead, and a warrant out for Clearwater’s arrest, no-one is safe. Loyalties and friendships are tested as the men face harrowing confrontations, a war of attrition in the national newspapers, storms, gunfights and death.

Will love and friendship be enough to secure the lives and futures of Lord Clearwater and his crew? Can they solve the riddles in time, and will anyone ever know the meaning of the seemingly unlockable riddle? Behind four points ’neath gifted crook, the light awaits for those who look…

The Larkspur Legacy follows on directly from ‘Starting with Secrets’ and is the culmination of both the Clearwater and Larkspur mystery series. It is not necessary to have read the Clearwater Mysteries, but to get the best from this ‘end of season finale,’ you’re advised to read both, the Larkspur Mysteries in particular, and to read them in order.

With themes of friendship, bromance, male love and revenge, the story combines historical fact with fiction. As with all of Jackson Marsh’s mysteries, the novel contains humour, love and action, while offering the reader the chance to solve the clues with the cast of disparate, well-drawn characters.

“This is a book that could have been written by
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dan Brown.”

That is what you will see on Amazon when the book is published.

For me, the important things to remember when writing a blurb are:

  1. It is not a synopsis
  2. It is selling the book
  3. Use power words
  4. Keep it brief
  5. Entice the reader

Other authors and advisors have other advice, but those are my rules to myself.

I start by writing what I want the browsing reader to know, and I don’t care how I write that draft. Then, I go through it knocking out as much as I can that’s not necessary to convey the backbone of the story, and then I go through it again using power words.

I try to keep blurbs down to 150 words or less, and only three paragraphs.

1) The premise of the story: Henry Hope lies in a coma, and Lord Clearwater’s hunt for his mother’s secret treasure is on hold, when…

2) The ‘thing to draw the reader in’: But when a new clue comes to light….

3) The great question or hook: Will love and friendship be enough…?

As for power words, I mean words and phrases like:

Greatest adventure, most dangerous, murderous enemies, the unknown, harrowing confrontations, war of attrition, storms, gunfights, death…

I also prepare the blurb before I send my MS to my proof-reader, because it makes sense for a third party to check it as much as they check the MS.

I’m lucky to have found Ann Attwood, and she has been my proof reader on every Jackson Marsh book and a couple of my later James Collins titles. It’s important to have a good working relationship with your proofer (who is not necessarily also your editor, in fact, I believe they should be two different people, but that’s up to you).

I invited Ann over to tell us a little bit more about herself and how she got into proofreading.

I started proofreading in my twenties (a long time ago!), mainly doing technical documents, but I have always read a lot.

I read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind when I was around 16. My mum had the hardback edition, which was really heavy to carry around, and, of course, I read all Jane Austen’s books, and Georgette Heyer’s. As you can see, I am a big romantic fiction fan.

I worked in banking (sorry) until I had my family, but reading kept me sane. After they all started at school I was working in a preschool, but had to give up when I damaged my back. I needed something to do.

It wasn’t a big leap to get into reading ARC editions, but many had so many mistakes from lack of editing, I think, so I began sending corrections to the authors.

It wasn’t long before I was asked if I would proofread or edit professionally, so I set up a Facebook page (now Meta), and it snowballed from there.

To be honest, it’s so long since I started working with James and his Jackson persona, I can’t remember how we met. Probably a recommendation, which is how I’ve gained most of my authors (there are about 40 or 50 on my books. Some send regularly a book a month, others may send one or two a year)

James is easy to work with, and his books are extremely good. I enjoy following the plots and untangling the mysteries to see if I reach the same conclusion. The stories are extremely well thought out, and he has obviously done a lot of research. All that is left for me to do is fix his typos and enjoy myself immersed in a brilliant adventure, ensuring there are no continuity issues (which there usually aren’t).

This last book, the finale in the series, is his longest and best yet (IMHO). All the loose ends are tied up, but no spoilers here.

As well as editing and proofreading for my indie authors (genres include romantic, historical, paranormal, sci-fi, crime, and murder mysteries), I proofread for the online edition of a financial magazine, and edit for the marketing arm of a PSP software provider.

Ann Attwood

Thank you Ann, you sound like a very busy person and I very much appreciate being one of your clients.

So back to checking through the manuscript, your proofer should be able to identify everything from obvious typos to the subtle differences between words, and that’s what Ann does. Although I use a spell check, and a couple of plug-in grammar and spelling checkers in Word, there’s nothing to beat a 3rd party pair of eyes, and an experienced grammarian proof reader. We’re not just talking spelling and typos, but punctuation and consistency of story.There are so many words in the English language that are important to get right, and some of the ones I need a third eye on are these:

Discrete           Discreet

Blonde            Blond

Practise            Practice

And some of my most common typos are character’s names, believe it or not. Often your eye and brain see what they expect to see, not what’s actually written, so I am always missing mix-ups like:

Dalson             Dalston

Joseph             Joshep

Marshall          Marhsall

I’ve also put in some accidental typos that have been quite funny (as long as they get taken out). Mind you, nothing is as funny as some of the typos you see left in published classics.

In the Larkspur Legacy, there is one section where one of the characters is reading from an actual copy of Baedeker’s travel guide from 1890, and I couldn’t help quoting it verbatim. Reading from the book, the character says:

 ‘The façade, towards the boulevard… They must mean this road… Roman circular style… Three stories…” Spelt wrong. “Cottage of the pensioner who keeps the key…”’

The Baedeker travel companions, were very popular in the later 19th century and well respected, but not always so well proofed, it seems. Mind you, I can’t say anything, I am always coming up with new and creative typos: ‘Joe’s not stupid, Sir, he’s dead.’ Instead of deaf, for example. Mostly, I’m able to take them out before they go to Ann, but I also have a checklist of my most common. Form/From, Filed/filled, griped/gripped etc. I have trouble with double-letter words, as you can see, and that’s why you should always hire a professional proofreader, or a proof reader, or, assuming he/she is a compound adjective, a proof-reader.

Proof-reader might not be a compound adjective, actually. I don’t know. Which is why I call in the professionals.

The Larkspur Legacy is due for release next Saturday, 26th March. In the meantime, to celebrate the completion of The Clearwater and Larkspur Mysteries, I am offering Deviant Desire as a FREE download on Amazon until 22nd March. Maybe you had it on KindleUnlimited before but now you can download for keeps, or maybe send to a friend to get them hooked too!

I am also part of a BookFunnel promo running for the week, over 50 fellow MM author are showcasing their first in series, so if you are looking for a new binge read have a browse. I need clicks on this link to build my BookFunnel reputation so please CLICK HERE

And finally, on Monday, at 7pm Athens time, I will be available for a live 30 minutes Q and A session at the M/M Fiction Addiction Cafe. Feel free to drop by and ask me anything you like (well, within reason lol).

Work In Progress: 5.14

The Larkspur Legacy

The work in progress news this week. I have the proofed MS back, and am reading through it for the last time; still a few days to go with that.

Meanwhile, I have sent the back cover text to Andjela so she can make up the full cover, and I have estimated the page count to be around 500, including the author’s notes, front and back matter, map and an illustration. I expect to have the covers finalised in a week or so, and we are still on track for release on March 26th.

My next job, after my final read, is to set up the Amazon page and get the ISBN number, so I can add that to the front matter before sending everything off to be formatted.

Meanwhile, Neil read the full draft and had a comment to make. I’ll put it here to whet your appetite.

As with all the Larkspur books, The Larkspur Legacy catches the reader in a tale of mystery and mayhem, and twists and turns that will not disappoint. This last story is a book that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dan Brown could have written together.

Jackson Marsh is a gifted author who keeps his readers on the edge of their seats. There will be tears, and your blood will be thumping in your chest as the excitement unfolds.

My proof-reader wrote,

This one’s going to be a hard one to surpass!

What you make of it will be revealed in time, but there’s not long to go now. If you’ve not started on the Larkspur Series, then now’s a good time to begin the adventure with ‘Guardians of the Poor.

As I’ve mentioned before, things that happen in this novel have their roots in previous books, and in ‘Legacy’, the skies are darkening with the wings of chickens coming home to roost, as an old friend of mine used to say. (If only chickens could fly; I think he was being ironic.)

Upwards and onwards, and less than three weeks to wait.

Work In Progress 5.13

The Larkspur Legacy

This week I have a brief work in progress update for you.

Yesterday, I sent the first half of the MS off to be proofread. I am having a final read through, and when that’s done, the rest will be ready for proofing.

I’m still on track for publication on March 26th (or as soon after that date as Amazon releases the book), so there is not long to wait now.

Currently, my days are taken up with writing, re-reading, editing, and re-reading again.

The cover is ready but I must work on the back text and blurb, and the author’s notes which have proved popular in the Larkspur Series.

Once all this is done, and the book is out, I can turn my mind to The Clearwater Companion, the collection of series-related information and short stories I intend to put together for anyone who has read the entire two series. But that’s for the future. For the moment, it’s back to re-reading.

Made me chuckle

How To Start an M/M Romance Series

Currently, my first-in-series novel, Deviant Desire, is enjoying a book funnel promotion in their M/M Series Starters listing. There are many series-starters on the list, which you can explore from here. This gives me an excellent opportunity to talk about the first story in the Clearwater Mysteries, and to address the title of today’s blog: How To Start an M/M Romance Series.

First, have a deviant desire to write.

I’ve often been asked,

‘How did you start writing the Clearwater series?’

My answer?

By accident.

The Stoker Connection

Back in 2018, I’d written a novel called ‘The Stoker Connection,’ and by doing so, unleashed within myself the deviant desire to write more mysteries based on fact, but ones that also included romance and adventure.

I’ve been a fan of ‘Dracula’ since I was 11 and begged for a copy for Christmas. (I was mad on the Hammer Horror films of the 70s and had a thing for creepy castles and what I now know as Gothic.) Dracula is written in the form of diaries and articles, journals and messages, and that makes it all the more real. So, when I set about ‘The Stoker Connection’, I wrote it in diary form, and based the story on a great big What If?

“What if you could prove that the greatest Gothic horror novel of all time was a true story?”

That was my starting point, and if you want to read how it all turned out, you can find The Stoker Connection here.

The Clearwater Mysteries

What ‘Stoker’ did was open up another What If? In this case,

What if Jack the Ripper had killed rent boys?’

That led to a

Why not?’

and then came the,

‘I can, and I will.’

Why not write a story where the villain is the famous Ripper of history? It’s an unsolved crime(s) that continues to grab the imagination of everyone, from conspiracy theorists to famous novelists, filmmakers to composers, so why not have a go? I’d read just about every book on the subject, seen the documentaries and films, and had gathered an amount of knowledge of the times and places. I’d even lived not far from Whitechapel and often walked its streets.

But… Yes, it had been done before, so I needed a different approach.

Make it a gay love story?

I’d written some classic MM Romance with ‘The Mentor of Lonemarsh House’ and other ‘Mentor’ books, and I’d dabbled with gay-to-straight mystery/romance/lore in my James Collins series, ‘The Saddling Series.’ What, then, would happen if I wrote a gay romance set in October 1888, the time the Ripper was stalking the streets of Whitechapel? The only way to answer a question like that is to set about writing one, so I did.

But…? How to make it faction?

Faction being a word for a novel where fact and fiction mix. How to make it realistic without descending into blood and gore, and how to make it dramatic? As if the original events weren’t dramatic enough. First, I thought, because it’s not going to be fact-fact, I will change Whitechapel to Greychurch, so I can create my own world. Greychurch is simply my name of the area of London, and now, eighteen books later, I rather wish I’d just called it Whitechapel, because the series has gone on to be accurate in historic detail apart from the names of a few places. Once they had appeared in ‘Deviant Desire’, it was too late to change them, so I still have Limedock for Limehouse, Westerpool for the Wirral, and St Matthew’s Park instead of Hyde Park. Hey ho! You write and learn.

But… Eighteen books by accident?

Well, yes and no. ‘Deviant Desire’ was meant to be a standalone novel, one that went into detail of the living conditions in the East End in 1888, and one that used facts as well as fiction, told a love story, and that was it. While writing it, I made references and gave nods to some of the facts from the original horrors. Astute Ripperologists may note that I have a double murder on one night, that some of the murder sites bear similarities to the originals (Mitre Square became Bishop’s Square, for example), and there are other hidden references which the avid reader might notice.

Yes, but… Eighteen books?

I’m getting there. The background to ‘Deviant Desire’ was London 1888, but what was the love story? Let’s call on another popular trend, I thought, one that some critics call cliché, and it is, a bit. Rich and poor, across-the-divide, Prince and Pauper, except, not a Prince but a viscount. In the British nobility, a viscount is less than an earl, more than a baron, but still an ancient title that often comes with much responsibility, and as much inherited wealth as debt. Of course, the other character had to be a rent boy, a ‘renter’ as he calls himself, and that’s how we ended up with the two main character’s you see on the cover. Archer Riddington, aka, the Viscount Clearwater, and Silas Hawkins, aka Billy O’Hara, the renter.

Their story starts with the line,

Silas Hawkins was searching for coins in an East End gutter when a man four miles distant and ten years older sealed his fate.

We don’t know who this man is yet, but within that line, we know Silas is poor, where we are, and that there’s going to be an age-gap element. The story continues… Silas has a best friend, a straight man with a big, er, talent, who works as a rent boy out of necessity, and who is an immigrant from Ukraine. Clearwater, meanwhile, sets his crotchety butler and his gorgeous, sexy footman the task of acquiring a renter for an interview. There are already enough ‘standards’ in the story, and I didn’t want another, i.e. the one where a rich man hires a poor man for a shag. Archer is more noble than that, and is using his new-found wealth to finance a shelter for homeless young men in the East End; rent boys, mainly. Thus, he wants to know what life is like for them and what they would want in such a shelter, and sends his staff to find someone who looks a little like a picture he drew. (There is an element of Archer wanting a fantasy to come true, and boy, does he get it.)

Yes, but…? I’m still getting there.

The story unfolds. Silas and his mate, Andrej, meet Archer. Silas immediately falls for him, and vice versa, at which point, the over-arching theme of the book begins: being gay in Victorian Britain was illegal, so everything that follows must happen away from the public eye.

So, now we have: rich and poor, nobility and renters, the East End and Knightsbridge, gay and straight, friendship and love, a 19 year old and a 29 year old, and our main cast can only love illegally. Oh, and there’s a series of murders taking place too, let’s not forget the villain of the piece. Let’s also not forget that the footman is in love with the viscount, the viscount is in love with the footman, but nothing has ever happened because, even within a nobleman’s house, relationships must not cross the threshold of the green baize door. (Upstairs and downstairs mustn’t mix.)

All these elements continue as the mystery unfolds, reaches a climax, and ends with an ending I was not entirely happy with. I was happy with it as a writer, but it left me feeling that there was something more. A longer story to tell. Characters have arced and changed, but where do they go next? What happens to the footman? Did the Ripper escape? Will he be back? Is he dead? And what am I going to do with this main cast of characters.

They’d already become so real, I knew Deviant Desire had to lead to something else.

It did, it led to 17 more novels.

At last! Yes, you see, I got there in the end.

What started as a one-off became a series, by accident, as I said. I hadn’t planned the series, so my ‘How To’ tip remains:

just get on and write it and see what happens.

It’s easy to base future stories on elements of those in the already-published earlier books, you don’t need to plan ahead. Having said that, as I worked through the series, I made notes of what I might like to see happen when the time was right, what other characters I could bring in, and what historical events I could use as fact in my fiction. Had I done all that before writing, Silas Hawkins was searching for coins… I would have found the prospect too daunting, so I am glad I just said, What if? and got on with it.

How Many Novels make up the Clearwater Series?

I mentioned 18, but that includes the follow-on series, the Larkspur Mysteries. The Larkspur novels include characters from right back in book one of Clearwater, Deviant Desire, and they even include threads that began in the prequel (which I wrote after Clearwater eight, ‘One of a Pair’, but which happens before Deviant Desire and leads into it). The two series are connected, and the five main characters, the ‘canonical five’ (you will note the Jack the Ripper reference) can be found playing parts in just about all eleven Clearwater and seven Larkspur books.

So, to answer the question, How To Start an M/M Romance Series, I’d have to answer:

Plan it, write book two before you publish book one, be passionate from the start, keep notes and a ‘bible’ for details, and keep going.


Do what I did, and start one by accident.

Either way, I now have my own best seller, ‘Deviant Desire.’ Two actually, because the first in the Larkspur Series, ‘Guardians of the Poor’ is also doing well. People like a good ongoing series with characters who develop, and, I am pleased to say, that’s what you get with both the Clearwater and Larkspur mysteries.

Note: The last book of both series, ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ is due to be released around March 26th. You don’t have to have read all of the Clearwater books to enjoy the Larkspur series, it can be read separately, but you’ll get more from Larkspur if you’ve read Clearwater. You’re advised to read both series from the start and in order. You can find them all here:

The Clearwater Mysteries

The Larkspur Mysteries

Other novels by Jackson Marsh

The Saddling series and other books by James Collins

All my novels are available in paperback, Kindle and on Kindle Unlimited.

I Published a Book. What Do You Think?

It’s a sad fact that many first-time writers will say, ‘I finished writing my book last night,’ when what they mean is, they finished writing a first draft. I’ve seen it myself, when someone has sought me out, and asked me to look at their publication, proudly showing it off, cover and all, printed and bound, and in their hand, and they’ve asked for my opinion. I used to tell them what they wanted to hear, but now I say, ‘Do you want my honest opinion, or do you want me just to say, it’s lovely?’

Most of the time, when someone asks you what you think of their work, they are asking for approval. They don’t want you to say how you think it could be improved, because they think it’s already perfect.

This happened last year: I was sitting outside our local bar as I often do in the summer afternoons, and someone I vaguely know bounded up with the first copy of his book under his arm. Knowing I make a living out of writing, he asked me to tell him what I thought. Honestly? Yes, please. He was one of the genuine ones. He wanted me to pull it apart so he could take it back to the people he’d paid to publish it and get them to make changes, so I knew I could be direct. I didn’t read all of it, only had a glance through, and seeing it had been printed in a sans serif font was enough for me. But, based on what I saw, here is a list of some of the things to avoid, look out for, be wary of and do when self-publishing. As usual, these are my opinions, and other writers will have a different view.

What happens after you’ve written your first draft?

Answer: You write a second, and third, and fourth, and as many as it takes to make it perfect.

Never pay to have your book published

You don’t need to. There’s no guarantee the people you pay thousands to will keep their end of the bargain. It’s vanity publishing, and often, they only put out what you put in. If you present an unfinished manuscript, or one that needs editing, they might say they will edit, but often, they don’t. It comes out with typos and all. If someone other than you wants to publish your work, they should be paying you. It’s as simple as that.

There’s a draft in here

‘I finished writing my book!’ Translates as, ‘I’ve written a first draft, and it’s perfect. It says everything I want it to say. I’ve reread it twice and not had to change a thing…’

Alarm bells.

Nothing is ever finished the first time around. Or as Hemmingway said,

‘The first draft of anything is shit.’

Here’s my list of drafts:

1st       Don’t get it right, get it written. Bash it out, put the words down, tell yourself the story, make notes on the side as you go. Scribble reminders to include XYZ, number your files in order but give them POC titles. I.e., the Larkspur Legacy currently has 49 chapter files with file names such as:
20 Meanwhile, Silas at Larkspur, and
44 In house Dalston on way.
This makes it easier to nip back and make changes or check facts.

2nd      Read it through chapter file by chapter file. A POC, in my terminology, is a Point Of Chapter. Each chapter should do something otherwise it’s shoe leather, a term borrowed from screenwriting, where you write a scene just to fill in time. (You and the reader wander around aimlessly.) I’m not talking descriptions and atmosphere, they are essential, but someone having a conversation for the sake of it, or a scene that doesn’t advance plot or character, or in my case, mystery, that’s shoe leather.

Also, while in what I call draft two, the first readthrough, I cut out repetition. I have this thing where I get characters to tell each other or the reader their backstory or something they know, so that when I get to those parts in draft two, I can say ‘We know this.’ I make sure it’s been covered or mentioned, and then cut it out. It’s like dropping ‘remembrals’ along the path and then kicking them out of the way when you take the same route again.

Draft 2a. At this stage, I give what I have to my beta reader (husband) to read for story consistency. Does it make sense? Anything leap out as wrong? Any repetition? Anything that made you say, What the…? That kind of thing. It’s a structure read, if you like. I’m always pleased if I overhear him sniffing back tears, or laughing aloud, or calling me names when he gets a surprise, always so encouraging.

3rd       This is when, having gone from 100,000 words to 95,000 words of your draft, you know you need to cut another 5,000. Why? My story is perfect as it is. No, it’s probably not. We’re very good at defending our own work, some authors call their books their babies (eek!), but that’s not the relationship you should be having with them. You command them, not the other way around. So, “If in doubt, cut it out,” as our family doctor used to say.

Also, at this time, I perform an in-depth edit for grammar, punctuation, passive Vs active sentences, sentence length, word repetition… the technical side of the craft. To assist me, I use Pro Writing Aid, and Grammarly plug-ins, but ultimately, the style is up to you, so you can ignore their advice if you want. (I never use Microsoft’s grammar checker, and I’ve not explored their ‘editor’ yet, because I use those other tools.)

You may repeat the draft-three surgery as many times as you see fit, but let’s say you’re happy with your MS after draft three. What next?

4th       Draft four, of course. Some people say you should rewrite the entire thing from scratch, and yes, if you are a masochist, you can do that. If I’m not happy with a chapter or part of, I will take it out, discard the whole 4,000 words or whatever, and completely rewrite them. If I feel one of my novels needs completely rewriting, then I will probably throw the whole lot away and write something else. Clearly, the idea I’d had didn’t work, so why flog the proverbial?

Draft four can be a rewrite or a reread, but it’s usually the time when I put all files together and read the entire MS as one. While I am doing that, I check for typos.

TIP: Put the MS into one word doc, and as soon as you see a typo, run a search and find for that typo to ensure you haven’t done it again. Repeat this process before you send it to your proof reader, to cover anything you may have added in while editing.

Bonus TIP: I have a sheet of paper on which I wrote my most common typos. Some of them look like this: Wrote/write. Mr Lord/My Lord. Form/from. Sails/Silas. Desert/Dessert?

Time to let it go

By which I mean, let it go to a professional proof reader and/or editor if you work with an editor and we all should. If only we could afford it.

While you are paying to have the MS checked for typos, incontinences, spelling errors etc., there are other things to be doing. Hiring a professional artist to produce the perfect cover. Paying for illustrations or maps, if necessary. Working on the blurb and publicity releases. Starting the publicity ball rolling. Beginning the next novel…

Then, when the MS comes back, you need to read it again to approve the proofing, and that’s your last chance to make any changes. If you do, be careful not to add back in any other errors.

Then, it’s a case of having the MS laid out, uploading it to where you’re going to sell it, getting it publicised, and sitting back waiting for the money to come rolling in. It’s unlikely it will, so start the process again with a better story, and learn from any mistakes you made while writing book one.

Then, when you present your published book to people, you can do so knowing you have at least done your best to make it as perfect as perfect can be. Hopefully, the person you show it to won’t do what I did when that chap I was talking about showed me his ‘baby.’ Scream at the sans serif font, gasp at the overuse of exclamation marks, point out the various ways he’d spelt the same word, put double line breaks between paragraphs, and used “ ” instead of ‘ ’ (Apparently, double quotes for speech is American, and single is a British thing.)

But most importantly:

Don’t be put off by honest and constructive criticism, even when it feels like someone isn’t being positive. If all you want to hear is, ‘Darling, that was wonderful,’ then you should be working in the theatre.

Jackson Marsh

What is The Smoking Gun?

The Smoking Gun, Definition and history

According to the Miriam-Webster dictionary,

a ‘smoking gun’ is

Something that serves as conclusive evidence or proof (as of a crime or scientific theory). In legal terms, the smoking gun is the term is most often used to describe a piece of circumstantial evidence that will lead to a person’s conviction.

Cornell Law School.

Looking at other sources, we also discover that the term refers to the strongest piece of circumstantial evidence, as opposed to direct evidence, and the phrase, or one very like it, was coined by Sir Arthur Connan Doyle in the Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of Gloria Scott. In 1893, he used the words, smoking pistol, which was much more in keeping with his time and characters than ‘gun.’ The gun version seems to have come about in the 1970s, and may first have been used during the Watergate affair, because reports referred to one of Nixon’s tapes (June 23rd, 1972) as ‘the Smoking Gun’ tape, perhaps borrowing from Connan Doyle.

Examples of the Smoking Gun

Watch any of today’s action thriller films, and you will see examples of the smoking gun. The best ones are those which turn out to be something that’s been staring us in the face all this time, and when you realise, you say, ‘Oh, of course!’ At least, those are my favourite times, and I’m now trying to think of a classic one… The trouble is, they are also plot spoilers, so I can’t even give you an example from any of my books, in case you’ve not read them all. (And if not, why not? Lol.)

An example which is not a plot spoiler, might be: You walk into a room to find the last chocolate biscuit has been snaffled away, and your young child protesting his innocence… with chocolate all over his face. (That’s circumstantial evidence. ‘Real’ evidence would be him holding the last piece of the biscuit.)

How to use a Smoking Gun

I like to use the device as a twist, a revelation, or a key to unlock a mystery, but you have to be careful how you go about it. In one of my stories, I was aware from the start that I was going to rely on the smoking gun as the final ‘Ah ah!’ moment towards the end of the book. I had that in mind before I even began writing. Therefore, I was able to write the novel with that moment in mind, and made sure I laid the path to the smoking gun revelation with care.

Why? Because, when writing a smoking gun scene, you can’t reveal something that has never been there.

It’s like the classic error in dodgy thrillers and mystery plays, particularly those written by children to present to weary parents on a Saturday afternoon. Our hero battles the evil villain but is trapped, so he whips a magic potion from his pocket, throws it in the villain’s face, makes his escape and, ‘Curtain!’ Or, as happened in a play I once saw: The final showdown was taking place, the leading lady was about to be slaughtered in Act Two. The drawing room one afternoon in late spring, when our hero said, ‘There has to be a revolver here somewhere…’, dived into a bathroom cabinet, pulled out a gun and shot the baddie.

The message there being, always foreshadow your twists, handy escape implements and smoking guns. By the way, why were drawing room thrillers always set among chintz covered furniture in late spring? I worked on several back in the 80s, and never thought to ask. Nor did I think to ask how the character knew that particular cabinet would contain a gun, because a gun had never been mentioned. I also never found out why there was a bathroom cabinet in a drawing room.

Of course, where you want to avoid falling into the trap of ‘handy ways out of a crisis’ and ‘smoking guns that have not been foreshadowed,’ the opposite is true. There’s an old writers’ maxim that says,

If you’re going to show the reader a gun, you’d better damn well use it.’

Imagine if the hero, or detective, or both in one character, is halfway through an interview when he says, ‘That’s a very interesting sketch, Mr Snoot. Not everyone owns an original Da Vinci.’ How disappointed or bewildered (or both) are you going to feel when, after ploughing through the rest of the novel, you’re left wondering what the Da Vinci reference was all about?

A writer must make sure to justify prominent props, characters, and any suspicions put in the reader’s mind. Unless, that is, you are purposely intending to mislead your reader.

Some great murder mysteries to watch – look out for the ‘smoking gun’!

Something About Fish

Yes, you can mislead the reader, that’s allowed, and it’s called a red herring. However, my advice would be to make sure you don’t leave your red herrings to go off. Always tie them up, and hang them in the smokehouse, but don’t leave them there to rot. By which I mean, make sure your characters and readers know that was a red herring.

An aside. The term, red herring, may date from the late 17th century, when a publication suggested ways to train hounds to follow a scent trail. Herrings, when smoked and reddened, are particularly whiffy, and irresistible to hunting dogs. (More successful than other fish and dead cats, apparently.) The expression, as it relates to crime novels, became a widely used idiom in the 19th century, but if you try and look up exactly when, you will find many different theories. Most of them, I suspect, will be red herrings.

Back to the Smoking Gun

Apart from to offer my thoughts on this plot device, the reason I am posting this day, is because I am at the part in my current mystery where the smoking gun has just made its appearance. Actually, it’s been there since the book before, and throughout this one, as I peppered in references to it, but now, it’s just taken centre stage in the first draft. I’m not going to tell you what it is or even give you a clue, because that would spoil ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ for you. All I will say is, if you can wait until the end of March, and read the longest novel I have yet written, you will find out.

There will be an update on ‘Legacy’ in my Wednesday work in progress blog, by when, I hope, I shall be announcing that the first draft is finished.

Work In Progress: 5.09

The Larkspur Legacy

Here’s a brief update on The Larkspur Legacy. I am now at 162,000 words of the last book in the series, first draft. I’m averaging about 3,000 words per day, and estimate I have another four chapters to go. Two of them will be the rounding off of the story, and the last two will be the rounding off of the rounding off; the epilogue. Then, I will go back to the beginning and start my read-through for consistency and story. After that will come the edit-and-read line by line and the final read or rewrite. I will, during that time, start putting together the author’s notes section, and begin thinking about the blurb and cover. Maybe a map if I can afford one.

I am still on track to have the book published by the end of March. It would be good to have it out on the 26th of that month, as that’s my birthday (and Clearwater’s birthday), and as that’s less than eight weeks away, I better get a move on. It helps that it’s currently cold and windy here on Symi, and I’m not much inclined to go walking, but doesn’t help (that it’s cold and windy) because I am more inclined to sit on the sofa under my dressing gown playing SimCity and/or Sherlock on my tablet. My office is currently at 10 degrees, and it can take a few hours to get up to a decent temperature, and sitting at the kitchen table isn’t much warmer.

So, today, I will finish the climax action sequence, because such scenes are a staple of a Larkspur novel, and hopefully, tomorrow, I will have brought the main throughline story/stories to a conclusion. At this rate, I should have the first draft finished by Sunday.

Work In Progress: 5.07

The Larkspur Legacy

Today is a quick update on where I am with the last in the Larkspur Mystery series, ‘The Larkspur Legacy.’

There’s not much to report, but I have been getting on with things. I am now working on chapter 35, and the various threads of the story are starting to come together. I am at 123,000 words, and still have a way to go, so we are, as I thought, looking at a first draft of roughly 150,000 words, possibly more. This is the same length as ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, which is what I wanted. The end of a series needs to tie all kinds of things together and produce a satisfying result, and I know exactly how things are going to end. I had the finale planned many months ago, and the road I am on now although maybe not the home straight, it is perhaps the final corner that will lead to the home straight.

I am into my winter routine now, which means getting up early, doing some writing work for other people for a couple of hours because I still have to pay the bills, and then taking a walk to clear that from my head and set the next part of ‘Legacy’, and then getting down to a few hours of typing. My desk is surrounded by notes, I have 101 things to check when I finally get to read through the first draft to make sure the stories tie up, and then, around midday, I take time off. It’s tempting, though, when it’s winter, sometimes cold and wet, to stay in the sitting room for the rest of the day, but I try not to. Usually, by the afternoon, I am brain-dead because I’ve been writing since five in the morning, so I like to do something else. This year, I am working on a model of ‘the Mummy’ when not writing, playing the piano, giving a piano lesson, or watching ‘The Amazing Race’, ‘The Circle’ or other TV series.

‘The Larkspur Legacy’, then, is coming together, and I definitely have a deadline for its completion. I’ve been in touch with Andjela about the cover and she’s on standby for when I am ready, and we’re still looking at the end of March for its release.

More on my blog on Saturday.

How Many Voices Tell Your Story?

As you might know, I’m currently working on ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, the last in the Larkspur Mystery series.

If you have read ‘Starting with Secrets’, you will know that book comes before ‘Legacy’ and concerns a treasure hunt in four pieces based on the four points of a compass. In ‘Secrets’, the characters chased three out of four clues because I thought having four story-lines running simultaneously might be complicated, and now, writing ‘Legacy’ with all four stories in action, I find I was right.

It’s not the weaving of the four plots that needs careful handling and consideration, but the way the stories are told. I love a good, interwoven plot line or four, where each thread has to be tied off neatly so my story doesn’t get knotted. What I am having to be aware of is who is telling the story, and in ‘Legacy’, I have four main characters seeing the story from four points of view (POV). So, the question is, how do you handle that?

One Character POV

Many stories are told with one main character (MC) as the central character. We follow his/her path from a normal world, through a series of trials and a character-development arc, to a twist, a change, a crisis and a climax. (Use the search box for earlier posts about story and character development.) That’s the classic hero’s journey kind of storytelling, but in ‘Legacy’, I am not telling one person’s story. What I am doing, is bringing to an end a series of 17 books through a device that uses characters and information from as long ago as the Clearwater prequel, Banyak & Fecks, and taking us right up to date and the previous Larkspur mystery, ‘Starting with Secrets.’

I decided I couldn’t write a four-story epic like ‘Legacy’ with one main character involved in each one of the four through-lines, simply because no-one can be in four places at the same time. However, what I could do, was have one of my main characters ‘lead’ each storyline and write it from his point of view, keeping one protagonist (in this case, Archer, Lord Clearwater), and one antagonist who has a band of other villains under his command.

Thus, what we have are four stories woven together, all playing their part in the success or failure of one overarching story (the treasure hunt), and all coming about because of one protagonist. Easy right?

Actually, yes. I’m loving it, but I have to keep my eye on the ball, particularly when it comes to who is experiencing the story, and as I just explained, that is not one character, but four.

Five actually, or maybe it’s six…

Know Your Throughlines

Without giving anything away, I can tell you that the action plot of ‘Legacy’ looks something like this:

  1. Overarching plot of discovering the secret and finding the treasure based on four points of the compass.
  2. South: a team chasing down the answer to the south clue
  3. North: a team chasing down the answer to the north clue
  4. East: Ditto but the east clue
  5. West: you get the picture
  6. The villain’s story, because we need to know that side of things too

Within those six storylines, we must have the emotional side of the story, so that the reader is engaged emotionally and is not reading a Clive Cussler action-adventure story.*

So, among the six listed above, I also have:

  1. The ‘heart’ of the story; the friendship story if you like
  2. The tying up of previous loose ends, love stories, histories, etc.
  3. The villain’s motivation explained
  4. The tying up of other threads begun in earlier books in the series
  5. Giving those that deserve it a happy ending (or not)

(* I love Clive Cussler adventure stories, btw.)

With those charted on my map that will lead me through ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, I set about writing the story… stories… while keeping everything and everyone focused on the final outcome: success for Lord Clearwater, and happiness (or not) for his band of friends, crew and academy men.

This is where, when you are writing from more than one character’s point of view, you need to remember who is seeing the story unfold.

General Narrator VS Character POV

Many authors write with their own voice as the narrator, and that’s fine. The narrator is an omnipresent observer relaying the events back to you, the reader. I always wonder, though, how this narrator knows what’s inside the characters’ heads and hearts, and I often find the telling of the emotional side of stories is muted because of this approach. That, like everything else I write here, is only my opinion.

Some authors, and I am thinking of John Steinbeck here, take on the voice of a character who lives in the world of the story but is not actually in the story. That works better for me, and I find my writing flows best when I am writing in the first person, as I do in one of the stories within ‘Legacy.’

Some of my books have taken two characters’ points of view, and others have taken more, but only now and then. ‘Banyak & Fecks’ for example, is told in four parts: Andrej, from his POV, Silas, from his, then the Andrej & Silas, and Banyak & Fecks sections which are variously from both points of view. In other books, we might find a chapter from a minor character’s point of view, as we do at the start of ‘Artful Deception’ which opens with a man called Henry Beddington, the concierge of the National Gallery. That’s fine too; we need to keep our readers informed and entertained, and if we have to change from one place to another, we might need to change from one character’s POV to another.

Beware: it’s not a good idea to have a new lead character and point of view in every single chapter or section thereof.

For ‘Legacy’, I have gone down the multi-character point-of-view narration style. It’s still my voice overall, but even though we read from a 3rd person, omnipresent narration in all but the 1st person sections, I am aware that I am describing things from a character’s POV and not my own.

Say what?

I am trying to say, when making more than one character your main character, always be aware of who that character is, and make sure his/her reactions to and observations of what happens are character appropriate. Fine, but there’s more. I also try and ensure my style of narration reflects the main character of the chapter.

Let me try and illustrate what I am saying.


Again, without giving anything away, here is how I am approaching this multi-character point-of-view style in ‘Legacy.’ Here are a few examples of how I am trying to change my narrator’s voice to reflect the attitudes of the main characters of each of my storylines. These are first-draft, unedited sections, so please forgive any clumsiness.

1) Action at Larkspur Hall is seen from Silas’ point of view, therefore the first thing we get is a cosey scene of two lovers in bed. The writing style is mostly straightforward, to reflect Silas’ character, and when writing, I find myself ‘thinking Irish.’

‘This is an outrage!’

Silas rolled over to find his lover sitting up in bed, his reading spectacles teetering on the end of his nose and his face red with rage. Archer’s knuckles were white as he gripped a newspaper, and his coffee sat steamless on the bed tray. Silas hadn’t heard Nancarrow come in, deliver the coffee and pour, nor had he woken when the butler drew the curtains revealing a grey sky…

2) Action pertaining to the ‘heart’ of the story (the good fortune of the academy men, friendship, the changes Clearwater has enabled in his men, the more emotional side of things). This is mainly seen from Dalston Blaze’s point of view, he being the first Larkspur Academy man we met in ‘Guardians of the Poor.’

The workhouse. A previous life of tedium, cold and hunger. An existence he wouldn’t wish on anyone, and yet, had it not been for a house fire and an unknowing public, he wouldn’t have been taken to the Hackney spike. There, if it hadn’t been for a kind matron and his ability to draw, he would never have met Joe, but if he hadn’t met Joe, he may not have fallen prey to Skaggot. His life had been shaped by a chain of coincidences, and the only one among them that felt inevitable was meeting Joe.

3) 1st person narrative is written by Bertie Tucker in diary form. He’s a pretty rough character underneath, been at sea since he was seven, and not greatly educated, but he’s been asked to keep a diary. In this brief section, he’s trying on clothes with an Italian sailor called Mario. The style is completely different to a) give readers a rest and a smile, and b) bring them into the action, because 1st person is more direct.

I got me boots and trousers off, and was in my drawers going through the shirts when I found one I thought might fit him. So, I turned back to hand it over and he’s standing there naked as the day he was born. Or, more like, the day he was carved out of marble, because his body (darker skin than me) showed me every single muscle.

‘What you doing naked?’ I said, and should have looked away, but being me, I couldn’t resist a gander. Just a quick one, you understand, but enough for him to see what I were doing.

‘No underwear,’ he said. ‘Lost it in a bet.’

Bloody hell. This great big peg dangling about dark as you like, and a couple of buoys you could hitch a few lobster pots to and never lose them in a storm, and… I mean, where’s a man to look?

4) The descriptive, darker side of villains. When we switch to the baddies and what they are up to, I have, as I have done before, slipped into Tripp’s mind, but in some cases, as in the example below, I have become a general narrator as if I and the reader were floating around in the fetid atmosphere of the villain’s lair.

To Tripp’s left stood the letter table, a relic of a fortunate past once lived, where industrious staff had placed the box for posting, and the deliveries from cheerful men wishing Fareham’s household a good day. Now, it was nothing but another shape in the gloom, whose usefulness had faded like the writing on the envelopes that once might have waited there. What remained was an opener. A long, steel blade which, unlike Tripp, had meaning. It was within his reach, and it would do its work with speed, but it was not work Tripp could currently allow. No matter how vile his master, he needed the earl. Perhaps, once Clearwater was dead, so could the earl be, for Tripp had nothing to live for after his revenge was done.

5) Others, and so on. Other parts of the story are seen through the eyes of other characters, such as Frank Andino, and when he’s on stage as the MC, I am aware that he’s a blunt speaker. Not only is this reflected in the dialogue, but it’s also shown in the ‘black stuff’, the narration, as if we were in his mind.

The sauntering young Greek became a confident Englishman as Frank entered the foyer, hands out of pockets, guidebook under his arm. His hat doffed to the sleepy old lady behind the counter, he mounted the stairs with grace until the turn, and then bolted the rest of the way to their room. Two open suitcases, Jimmy’s spare jacket on a hanger, Frank’s trousers off the floor, two bottles from the table, one bloody boot? Where’s the other one, malaka…? Both in the case, case shut, other case shut, quick check. All there. Fuck off out of here.

How Many Voices Tell Your Story?

To bring this to a close, I repeat: How Many Voices Tell Your Story? I answer my own question by saying, as many as it takes, but be careful. Ensure your narration fits the main character as well as your characters’ dialogue suits them, and don’t be afraid to transport your reader from one place to another at the turn of a page. However, remember your overarching through-line, your character arcs and your plot.

Hey, this writing thing is meant to be fun, isn’t it?

Have a good weekend, Jackson