Work In Progress: 4.2

Starting with Secrets

Well, I’m not sure how this happened, but by the end of today, I shall be at 50,000 words of the next book in the Larkspur Mysteries series, ‘Starting with Secrets.’ This is only WIP blog 2! One of the reasons this one is going so smoothly is that I have been planning it since starting book four, and it’s already plotted, I know all but a few of the characters, and I started writing scenes for it while I was writing ‘Speaking in Silence’, which, I am pleased to say, is doing well. Thank you for your reviews!

But 50,000 words? That’s like half a novel already and yet I am only a third of the way through the planned story. This book is either going to be another epic like ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, or it’s going to end up being two books. It is, in fact, the first part of a two-part finale to the series, and I intend to write on and on until I reach the end and not worry about word length. Then, when it’s done, I will take a look and decide if it’s a) is over-written and needs massive editing, b) it’s a two-parter or c) it’s just a long book with lots of mystery, thrills and spills.

It is a very simple story: Archer is left a treasure hunt which he wants to solve. However, the clues are obscure and, it turns out, they are also many. This means the ‘crew’ has to split into three teams, including the academy men, and among them is a new character, Bertie Tucker. While not being sure of why he is at the academy, Bertie becomes a distraction for Edward and that means he becomes a concern for Henry, and it’s down to James (Jimmy Wright) to play the part of mentor while investigating one line of clues. Meanwhile, Silas takes the lead on a London-based hunt, leaving Tom to consider the last two cryptics back at Larkspur. Behind all of this, there is a villain trying to stay one step ahead and bringing in other characters to his evil team, and there will be moments of danger, excitement and, of course, bromance.

I’m putting a lot of background research into this one, as I usually do, but as the story is so big and diverse, so is my background reading. All will be revealed in time, but for now, I am ploughing on with chapter 14, and wondering what the word count will be this time next week. Be here then to find out.

Work in Progress 4.1

Starting with Secrets

Okay, before we start on our next journey together, let’s just check in with the news.

Speaking in Silence, the Larkspur mysteries book five is now available on Amazon as a paperback, Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. Follow that link and you’ll be directed to your own country’s Amazon if necessary.

Now, onto the next one which I started while I was finishing the last one. That’s something I often do, but in this case, I did it because I knew that what happens next in the Clearwater/Larkspur saga has to relate back to what the previous novels contain. In the case of ‘Starting with Secrets’, we go right back to before even 1888 and Deviant Desire, the first in the Clearwater series. (Which, I notice, now has 75 ratings and many decent reviews. A few more ratings and we’ll cross the 100 mark, a milestone for me, so keep rating every book you read folks!)

I am already 25,000 words into ‘Secrets’ and am nearing the end of Act One. The thing is, this is the first part of a two-part adventure, and so the first quarter of ‘Secrets’ is actually the first eighth of the overall story. As a four-act story needs a turning point at the end of each act, when I get to 50% through ‘Secrets’, I will be at the end of Act One of the two-parter, if you get me. I have to bear all this in mind as I plough on.

So far, we have met one new character and we’re about to meet a couple of ghosts from the past. James and Silas have been called down to Larkspur because Archer has been set a treasure hunt. It will, ultimately involve the academy men, Fleet and various other charters we know and love (or hate). There will be trysts and triumphs, sadness and success, love and maybe a little lust if it is appropriate (am thinking of you, Charles).

I’ll keep you informed as I write on, so stay tuned to the Wednesday WIP blog, and check back on Saturday for my weekly ramble about all things books, me and creative.

Mapping Your Novel

Or, Getting From A to D via the B and C of it all

Today I wanted to talk about maps and mapping your novel, and how I use maps while mapping my novels. There are two parts to this.

  • 1) The way I structure the paths through the story
  • 2) How I use maps when creating a novel

Mapping Your Way Through Your Story

When previously talking about structure, I have recommended a couple of screenwriting books to read which were written by experts about story structure. ‘Story’ by Robert McKee, and ‘The 21st Century Screenplay’, by Linda Aronson. I can also add to that ‘Into the Woods’ by John Yorke. (I also recommend the Sondheim/Lapine musical with the same title as an excellent example of how to interweave stories together.) Read those books and you’ll know just about all there is to know about how to structure a story. Add in ‘The Writer’s Journey’ by Vogler, and you’ll know all there is to know about character arcs and development, archetypal characters and plot structure.

Essential reading for the budding writer

There are various ways to structure a story, but let’s think simple for now. By the time your story ends, something should have changed, a character should have learnt something or altered his/her state, and you should leave the reader with a sense of things to come thanks to that change, either good or bad. In other words, the end state is far away from the beginning state.

You can start your tale partway through the overall story as I did with ‘Artful Deception.’ There, chapter one starts a few days into the story, leaving us wondering what was happening and how and why the characters were in that situation. Then, in chapter two, we start at the real beginning with the inciting incident that leads to the scene we read in chapter one, and then we carry on from there. That’s a way of drawing the reader in and is very common in films. The point is, the story still starts somewhere and ends somewhere else, and I don’t just mean physically.

To get your action from A to D, you need to go via the B and C, and that’s where you need to map things out. I make a list of ‘hit points’ or ‘plot points’ or twists if you like…

A, everything’s fine and dandy when something happens.

That leads to B, trying to work out what has happened and what we can do about it, which then leads to a twist or change of direction at halfway, and we’re off into…

C, how do we deal with what’s happened? Working through that, through difficulties and challenges, emotional turmoil and whatever, leads us to the crisis. Just when you think things couldn’t get worse or the hero is doomed, he overcomes his fatal flaw, takes a leap of faith, and pulls up his socks.

That done, we then get on the with D of the story, the climax, and, after that, we’re in a different story state. It’s done, and the reader can relax or sigh with relief. We have gone from the A state of normality, travelled with our characters through the B and C (the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune) to the final battle and the D, the resolve.

Don’t take my words literally. You don’t have to have a physical final battle, it can be an emotional one, but it usually involves a leap of faith or a difficult decision. That’s because the emotional plot (character arcs, development, overcoming fatal flaws etc.) runs parallel to the action, and also needs mapping.

There are loads of online resources to use to understand this better, and while searching for a simple illustration of the above, I found the graphic below. This shows you the points of the story I mentioned (inciting incident to climax, etc.) with a typical character arc set against it in a graph.

How I use maps when creating a novel

If you have read ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ you will have seen a map of the route of the Orient Express circa 1890 to 1914. I had that map drawn because I wanted to include it at the start of the book, and because I love looking at maps. I can sit at my desk for ages reading a map, imagining the locations, revelling in the romantic place names, the terrain, contours and symbols, and I often have a map open when taking my characters on a journey. I have a map of the Great Western Railway routes, again from the late 19th to early 20th century, and I referred to it while writing my recent Work In Progress blog about ‘Speaking in Silence.’

I have a fantastic book about the history of maps and cartography, ‘The Cartographia’ by Vincent Virga, which sits in pride of place on my desk. Vincent also wrote ‘Gaywyck’, the first gay gothic romance novel. Along with the Cartographia, I have a Reader’s Digest Atlas of the World, a large book that talks about topography, geology, and geography, and comes with detailed maps of every part of the planet. I use this to find remote locations, such as the castle in ‘Negative Exposure’, so I can see where my characters are at any one time when on a countrywide chase.

Then, I have the more detailed Ordnance Survey maps, such as the one of Bodmin Moor where the imaginary Larkspur Hall is found. I have drawn on my copy, filling in a rough estate boundary for Larkspur and marking the location of the ring of standing stones Joe discovers in ‘Keepers of the Past.’ The OS  Explorer maps are great for detail, but if you’re not a map reader and want to see what a location looks like, then Google Maps is where you need to go.

Maps, maps and more maps

I use the Google map service a great deal. I find a place on the map, then switch to the image results to get an overview, and then switch to the Maps option and use the satellite view. With that, you can zoom in, and even place yourself on a street or in the countryside and really get into detail. I used this in ‘Speaking in Silence’ as you will read in the author’s notes at the end. That story is based on a real event, and the newspaper reports I found gave the address of one of the characters in 1891. I went to the satellite service and dropped myself onto the same road, found the actual house and had a look at it, as it is still standing.

Ah yes, you say, but that’s a good point. What we see now on these maps may not be what was there in 1891 when my current novels are set. You are right, I reply, and that’s why I often go to the National Library of Scotland. They have a brilliant online resource for old maps. If, for example, you head to this link: London map 1888 to 1913 you should see a black and white map of London that you can zoom into. In the bottom left corner of the screen is a ‘transparency of overlay’ feature, a slider that, when slid, reveals today’s Google map of the area, so you can compare then and now. The site has hundreds of maps of different scales and from different times and is a great online resource. Here is a link to their list of online digital resources. https://www.nls.uk/digital-resources/

Why am I Even Talking About Maps?

You might wonder why I am talking about maps at all. The reason is that the next novel in the Larkspur series involves journeys, as will the one after it. I am about to release ‘Speaking in Silence’, and have started working on the sixth book in the series, ‘Staring at Secrets.’ After that, we will have ‘The Larkspur Legacy’ and both books will involve characters from Larkspur and Clearwater heading off to various places, trying to put together a massive puzzle and find a ‘secret treasure’, as I’m calling it for now. Because I like to be as accurate as possible, I’m using maps of the time and other resources to work out distances, the time it would have taken to travel, and the means the characters would have had at their disposal. That’s why I also have a copy of Baedeker’s Egypt from 1892, and Cook’s Tourist Handbook for Egypt, the Nile and the Desert, 1897.

While the fun part is happening—the plotting, mapping and planning—I am also mapping the character’s arcs and developments, working out who will be the main character(s), what the emotional and love story will be, and those throughlines will be mapped against the physical action storyline. If you look at the photo of my larger notebook, you’ll see the beginnings of a rough chart that spans both books, as ‘Staring at Secrets’ is part one of the story. That’s good fun to do, but it’s also vital if you are to produce a well-structured action and emotional story through which your characters grow, and through which you take your reader from the ordinary world of A to the new world of D via the B and C of it all.

Work In Progress 3.12

Speaking in Silence’ and ‘Starting with Secrets

Yes, sorry about this, but I now have two WIPs on the go. Speaking in Silence is with the proofreader, so there is nothing more I can do about that for now. Having said that, I have just asked Anjela to amend the cover because I got something wrong in the blurb. Well, in the story, actually, where I gave Clearwater a title he could never have held. I’ve sorted that now, and it was only a case of changing one word three times. So, Speaking in Silence has gone for its check-up, leaving me little to do except prepare its Amazon page for when it comes back. Then, I will read it again, have it laid out, and upload the files. I am still aiming for the first week of August for its release.

Meanwhile…

Starting with Secrets has started. This story will be the sixth in the Larkspur Mysteries series and begins with something that happened way back before the first of the Clearwater series began. A secret known only to two characters sets off an adventure that will involve the academy men and characters from the Clearwater series. It’s going to be a two-parter, with the second book having its own title, and I have begun work on the plotting and early chapters.

The Larkspur / Clearwater Bible

I need to invent a fair few clues for ‘Secrets’, and my notebook has come in very handy, as has my Clearwater and Larkspur bible, where I record info about characters and places, events and so forth in case I need them later. Right now, I am about to sit at my writing desk and dream up another set of unlikely clues before returning to chapter four, which I wrote yesterday, and reading that through before moving on to chapter five.

I’ll be back next Wednesday with another WIP update, and who knows what I’ll be writing by then.

Work In Progress 3.11

Speaking in Silence

You may remember my to-do list last week looked like this:

  •     Finish the fine editing
  •     Reread for a final check
  •     Create the blurb
  •     Find images suitable to make a cover and open negotiations with Andjela
  •     Proofreading
  •     Layout
  •     Check everything and reread
  •     Upload to Amazon
  •     Hope for the best

I’m happy to tell you, I have completed the first four things on the list ✔✔✔✔, though I haven’t finalised the blurb yet. Neil has read my edited draft, and I have a little editing to do on the last chapter, which I will do in a moment. Andjela and I have the licence for a photo to be adapted for the front cover, and there will be a reveal of that nearer the release date, which is still estimated at the first week of August.

Check in next week for an update. Meanwhile, here’s the draft blurb.

Speaking in Silence

The Larkspur Mysteries Book Five

Jackson Marsh

“The quiet ones have the loudest voice. Them as say most by speaking in silence.”

Fiona Hawkins, 1881

March 1891. A parliamentary committee arrives at Larkspur Hall to assess Lord Clearwater’s suitability to become the Earl of Cornwall. Prince Albert Victor will announce their decision at a society dinner on Archer’s thirty-second birthday.

However, the MP with the authority to advance Archer to the title is the same man who caused Edward Hyde never to speak again. When the parliamentarians arrive to inspect the Larkspur Academy, Edward comes face to face with the man he had arrested for making unnatural advances. A man who was never tried for his crime.

Silas Hawkins and the academy men band together to ensure Edward sees justice done while protecting Lord Clearwater’s reputation and each other. Using their skills in chemistry, physics and deception, they embark on a game of secrets and subterfuge where the unspoken causes the loudest outcry.


Speaking in Silence is the fifth book in the Larkspur Mysteries series, and touches on themes of victimisation and suicide. Like all books in the series, it is inspired by actual events from the late 1800s. With themes of friendship, bromance, male love and revenge, the story is more of a ‘how dunnit?’ than a ‘who dunnit?’ and like all of Jackson’s mysteries, contains humour, while mixing fact with fiction.

Work In Progress 3.10

Speaking in Silence

We’re into week ten of the writing of this new Larkspur Mystery and I am pleased to tell you, I have only eight chapters left to edit before I can say I have a draft for my beta readers, Neil and Jenine. The MS is booked in for proofreading on the 20th of July, and I am still aiming for the end of July/start of August to have the finished novel ready for you.

My to-do list now looks like this:

  • Finish the fine editing
  • Reread for a final check
  • Create the blurb
  • Find images suitable to make a cover and open negotiations with Andjela
  • Proofreading
  • Layout
  • Check everything and reread
  • Upload to Amazon
  • Hope for the best

While all that is going on, you won’t be surprised to learn that I have started thinking about the next book. The next two books, actually, because I am planning a two-book finale to this series along the lines of ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’ I am teeming with ideas, and have already outlined various scenes in my head, but I must find a way to connect them. All I can tell you right now is that I am planning to incorporate many of the characters from both Clearwater and Larkspur, have three or four storylines running at once all leading to the same end, so all will be connected, take my characters to some wild and exciting places, and tie up many threads. Some of these threads were started in Deviant Desire, and before that, Banyak & Fecks, so I have lots of rereading and remembering to do (thankfully, I keep my ‘bible’ and notebooks). There is also a special ending to consider, and all being well, you’ll be able to read the second book of the two at or by Christmas.

Watch this space.

Thank goodness for my author notebooks and ‘bible’!

This Author’s Summer

Summer is well underway on our little island. Temperatures are in the low 30s but don’t stop me from working. I’m used to the temperature outside being up to 45 degrees in the middle of summer, and I spend a lot of time avoiding the great outdoors. When I do, I stay in the shade. While inside, I work at my desk with my shirt off, a towel between my arm and my mouse, and a large, noisy fan blasting at me from the side. I also do most of my work in the morning, getting up at 4.00 and working through until 11.00, then taking a break, and returning around 13.30 for another couple of hours before taking a siesta.

A summer’s view from our balcony

While all that’s going on inside, there’s a lot going on outside. As you might know, I live on Symi, an island in the Aegean not far from the larger island of Rhodes. We have day-trip boats coming in every day during the summer, sometimes up to five of them. They come from Rhodes bringing interested visitors on a day out who meander around the harbour or are herded in groups by tour guides with little flags. The backstreets can become busy down there between certain hours, and I don’t very often get down unless it’s for bank, post office or ferry business. We have a bus and taxis, but as I don’t own a car, I prefer to walk even though it’s about 400 steps down and 400 back up again. Needless to say, I don’t do that when it’s 45 degrees.

Living on a Greek island isn’t always as idyllic as you might think. Recently, our water pump was playing up, and we had to get another one installed. I should explain that we are not on a constant mains water supply. We can fill up our tank three times a week, and if it runs dry, then that’s it until the next filling-up day. Because the main water cistern beneath the house was invaded by tree roots and is unusable, we have a large plastic one on our flat roof. This holds 500 litres, and that’s usually enough for two of us, but without a pump to pump the water from the tank to where it’s needed, we’re ‘dry.’ Anyway, we had to replace the water pump this week because the old one sounded like it was about to blow, and I’d rather pre-empt a ‘dry’ spell, particularly as we had Neil’s brother visiting.

One of our local restaurants that we visited when Neil’s brother was here. The ‘Kali Strata’ offers a new, modern twist on traditional Greek dishes…and a great view!

Another thing about living here is that it’s not always convenient to travel. We were aware of this when we decided to settle here, so I’m not complaining, just pointing out what it takes to get from A to B. We and Neil’s brother have been invited to a wedding in Inverness later this year. James (the bother-in-law) lives in Vienna, so for him, it’s a train to the airport, a flight, a wedding, a couple of nights in a hotel and a flight home. For us… Well, that’s a different matter. I’ve done my research and made a spreadsheet, and the cheapest way for us to do this trip in November involves this: An overnight boat from Symi to Athens. Night at the airport hotel (very costly but the flight is an early one). Flight to Edinburgh, couple of nights there, train to Inverness, hotel, wedding, hotel, train to Edinburgh, hotel, flight to Amsterdam, flight to Athens, hotel for two nights, overnight boat home. James will be away from his home for three days, but we will be away for 12, and that’s without taking a holiday (although we are seeing grandchildren and visiting family).

This will be us in November lol

But enough rambling from me. I must get back to my fine editing of ‘Speaking in Silence’ and racking my brains for a cover idea. You can discover how the next Larkspur Novel is coming along by looking at my regular Wednesday WIP blogs.

Doing Your Denouement

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

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

What is a Denouement?

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

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

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

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

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

What to Consider When Writing a Denouement

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

Keep notes as you write towards the end

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

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

Don’t Witter on for too Long

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

Beware Repeats

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

Show Not Tell

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

Keep to the Rules

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

Other Advice Answered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work In Progress 3.08

Speaking in Silence is now at Plymouth

On our imaginary train journey from London to Larkspur, Speaking in Silence is now on platform one at Plymouth station. We have two legs to go, from Plymouth to Liskeard, and from there to Bodmin. Or, in writing terms, we have the remainder of the climax to write followed by the denouement, the ‘how it was done’ section.

https://www.historichotels.org/hotels-resorts/the-savoy-london/media-gallery.php

I am at 85,000 words with approximately another 10,000 to go (plus all the rewriting and editing), and last night, I left my characters at the Savoy Hotel’s French dining room, in London, on March 26th 1891. They were among good company, being in the presence of Prince Albert Victor, Sir Arthur Sullivan, WS Gilbert, Gladstone and other notables of the time. The Clearwater crew are represented by Archer, Silas, Jasper, Mrs Norwood and some of the Larkspur Academy men, and on the journey, we have met several others from the large cast of both Clearwater and Larkspur mysteries.

There’s a reason for the cast being so large, and that will become clear in the next novel, as yet untitled, and the one after that which will finish the series, The Larkspur Legacy. But those are other journeys for other days.

Right now, I am dealing with an unusual mystery novel, because the mystery is for the reader (I hope), who should be asking, ‘What are they up to?’ It’s one of those where the characters and I know more than the reader does until the reveal at the climax. When I rewrite, I will need to check I haven’t given too much away while also making sure what clues I do drop are sufficient to hold the reader’s intrigue. I am sure I will find out when husband Neil reads the second draft for me, but that will be on the return journey to London.

Ah, we are now pulling out of Plymouth, and I must get back to the Savoy Hotel and the great reveal…

Making Your Book Titles Count

I’ve often been asked how I come up with the titles for my novels, so today, I thought I’d look at a few and explain how they came about.

Just the other day on Self-Publishing School, Chandler Bolt wrote a piece titled ‘Book title ideas: Choosing your own & generators to use.’ In his article, he says titles are short hooks that advertise your book by using the fewest possible words, and suggests that potential readers take less than five seconds to decide whether or not to buy the book. Some things to bear in mind, he says, are to

  • make the title memorable,
  • make sure its genre-appropriate and
  • make it intriguing.

I agree with everything he says in his article (it’s well worth reading), and it caused me to reminisce about how I came up with some of my titles.

What Comes First, the Title or the Story?

Good question. I just experimented with a book title generator and, to be frank, wasn’t impressed. It was a basic thing where you selected an adjective and a noun, and it bunged the in front of random words. It generated things like ‘The Enchanted Pencil’, ‘The Imaginary Vase’ and ‘The Crazy Coffin‘. Okay, fun if you’re looking for inspiration and you don’t mind every book title starting with The, but it wasn’t really my style. I could have done better by opening a dictionary at random and picking the first two words I came across.

Actually, let’s try that…

The Queer Informant

The Predynastic Deuterium


The Putty Cushion

Now we’re just being silly. Let’s get back on track. Where in the world did ‘Deviant Desire’ come from?

Deviant Desire

Deviant Desire started out as Something Lamplight, or it might have been Something Gaslight, because I wanted a title that reflected the background of the story, Whitechapel in 1888, during the time of the Ripper murders. As I was writing the book, I thought more about the title, and suddenly ‘Deviant Desire’ popped into my head. I hadn’t read that article I just mentioned or anything like it, so this was instinctive, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.

Deviant Desire works on several levels. The main character, Silas Hawkins, is a renter and a trickster, so he’s a deviant. He’s also gay and so is the other MC, Lord Clearwater, so according to the lores of the time, they are both deviants. When they meet, they fall for each other, crash, bang, wallop style, so there’s your desire.

Meanwhile… The villain of the piece is killing young men as a way of laying a trap for our hero. He, the villain, has a deviant desire, not only to trap the hero, but a desire to kill, and if that’s not deviant, I don’t know what is.

Twisted Tracks

The title for the follow-on novel to Deviant Desire, Twisted Tracks, took a little longer to come up with, but it works in the same way. A villain is enticing the hero to a confrontation, and he does it with various twisted clues, including an anagram, a twisting of words into other words. Our hero and his friends follow the clues, the tracks left by the villain, and everything climaxes on a runaway steam train which, of course, runs on tracks. Until they run out…


Unspeakable Acts

The trend continues in book three of the Clearwater Mysteries with Unspeakable Acts. The trend of using succinct two-word titles, an adjective and a noun, but without ‘The’ in front of them. While thinking of this title, I wanted to continue using words that the Victorians used for gay men and their sexuality. So far, we’ve had deviant and twisted, and another common thing was to refer to gay sex as an unspeakable act. The story of book three concerns a performance at the Royal Opera House at which someone is due to make a speech, but if he does, he will be assassinated, therefore he can’t, or, in other words, his speech is unspeakable. The performance is of an opera, so the word ‘acts’ has a couple of other meanings (the division of a play, what the actors do on stage), and it all ties together with the background theme of the Clearwater collection, the dangers of being gay in Victorian times.

And more…

I could outline every single one of the 11 Clearwater titles, but it would become repetitive. In summary, though, they all have double meanings: Fallen Splendour (book 4) refers to a line from the major clue of the mystery, ‘The splendour falls on castle walls’, and also refers to someone’s downfall; Bitter Bloodline (book 5) refers to the taste of a Transylvanian wine, a blood feud, and Bram Stoker; Artful Deception (book 6) centres on an artwork and theatrical tricks, while hero and villain try to outwit and deceive each other; Negative Exposure (book 9) refers to being photographed naked, having the negatives of those photos printed and therefore exposed, and because of that, a man’s secret coming into the open, thus, also being exposed.

You’ll note that for books seven and eight, the titles differ. We’ve moved on from the use of deviant et al., and the titles are longer. Home From Nowhere (book 7) was a line that came to me when the characters were speaking. As often happens, I let them speak and, later, edit what they say. In this one, Fecker says to Jasper something like, ‘Like me, you have come from nowhere’, and later, Jasper says to Billy, ‘I feel like I’ve come home.’ Oh yes, I thought, Jasper (the MC) has come home from nowhere, and there we go.

One of a Pair (book 8) is another play on words. Jasper is one of a pair of young men falling in love, and Billy is the same as he’s the other half of the pair. There’s another meaning to the title which I can’t tell you in case you haven’t read the book, but if you do, you will realise the relevance.

Banyak & Fecks, The Clearwater Prequel

Banyak & Fecks was the first time the title came before the story. I’d been thinking about a novel detailing how these two friends met. Deviant Desire opens with them in the East End, and they are already very close by the time we meet them, so how did they get there? My husband said there should be a prequel telling us just that, and I wanted to write something more character driven rather than full-on mystery. I wanted it to be about Banyak & Fecks, as they call each other, so that had to be the title, and it is.

The Larkspur Series

Still trying to keep to the title-writing rules of catchy, intriguing and memorable while sticking to my own deviant desire for titles to have more than one meaning while being relevant to the plot, I moved into slightly different territory for the Larkspur series.

Guardians of the Poor, the title of book one, refers to the real guardians of the poor, those who oversaw, ran and were responsible for the workhouses. It also refers to the two main characters, and how they do something which improves the life of those in a workhouse; they become guardians of the poor in another sense.

Keepers of the Past keeps up the rhythm of the series titles, and refers to archaeologists and a cult member (perhaps), while Agents of the Truth completes the three-part telling of Dalston and Joe’s story. It also refers to archaeologists and men working for the Clearwater Detective Agency.

Seeing Through Shadows

For book four in the Larkspur series, I wanted something a little more atmospheric, and I wanted to get away from the rhythm of ‘Plural Noun of the Single Noun’ of the first three books. Seeing Through Shadows gives us a verb, a preposition and a noun, so a different rhythm, while remaining succinct and a little intriguing. Do we see through shadows? Aren’t we just seeing what they are shadowing? I mean, if there’s a shadow on the wall, are we seeing the shadow or the wall? In the story, we’re not sure what we’re seeing, so that fitted rather well.

I am currently working on Speaking in Silence, which is an oxymoron, because you can’t speak without making a sound. Yes, okay, so we have sign language and writing, but that, strictly speaking, isn’t speaking. Speaking in Silence refers to those things which are left unsaid, and in the story, there are many of them. The most difficult ‘unsaid’ part of writing this novel has been keeping information from the reader; that’s the thing I am not saying; the silence if you like. The reader will find out what’s going on in the end, but I wanted to keep them in the dark for as long as possible. I hope it works. We will have to wait and see. Also in this story, there are lots of things that the characters don’t say, but in the gaps in conversations, they and we understand their meaning… It’s complicated to explain, and you’ll have to wait a couple of months before you can read it when I hope all will be revealed.

Other Titles

I’ve written more than the Clearwater and Larkspur series. You might have heard of or read The Mentor Collection, for example. They are ‘Older man mentors younger man in love, lust and a few other things’, kind of stories. The titles aren’t tricky, though again, there is a pattern. All four are ‘The Mentor of…’ somewhere, and that somewhere takes the classic form of adjective and noun. Here, the adjective suggests loneliness or isolation (reflecting the younger, lost-his-way character) and the noun is something stable, a home (representing the older character).

The Mentor Series

Thus, we have: The Mentor of…

Wild Hill Farm

Barren Moor Ridge

Lone Marsh House

Lost Wood Hall

As Wildhill Farm, Barrenmoor Ridge etc., as they are also place names.

To Finish

As usual, I am rambling on now, and I am sure you got the point some time ago. So, to finish, I thought I’d return to that random title generator and come up with some more Mentor titles. This isn’t just for fun, I also want to highlight what I believe: that the author should come up with the title, and not use one of these random word-pickers, although they might spark ideas for stories. Perhaps. How about reading…

The Mentor of the Perfect Fireplace

The Mentor of the Haunted Coffin

The Mentor of the Happy Wheelbarrow

The Students of the Windy Wind

Remember: keep the title succinct, intriguing, genre-specific and, if you can, consider the rhythm.

See you on Wednesday for more WIP news, have a great weekend and happy reading!