The Clearwater Mysteries: What’s next?

The Clearwater Mysteries: What’s next?

My next novel, ‘Banyak & Fecks’ should be available in a couple of weeks, and my newsletter will tell you when it has been published. There will also be news on my Facebook page. It occurs to me that I have done a rather strange thing, or I am about to. I realised that what I have done is write an eight-part, ongoing series over the last two years, and now, I’ve gone back to before that series started and written a prequel. So, that’s kind of cart about horse, as Fecker might say.

The Theme of The Clearwater Mysteries started with a pebble

Banyak & Fecks works whether you’ve read some, all or none of the series, and you can slip it into your reading at any time without it interrupting the flow of the series. It won’t give away any spoilers either, but it will explain a few things you might wonder about as you read the eight books.

For example, in book one, ‘Deviant Desire’, Silas’ only possession is a small, black and white pebble and when he wakes up at Clearwater House to find his clothes have been burnt, he is desperate to know where it is. Luckily, Thomas, the footman, being a caring chap as well as drop-dead gorgeous, finds and keeps it, assuming that it has importance to the urchin.

Later in the series, we learn that Andrej gave Silas the pebble, and Silas kept it as a reminded of their deep friendship. What we don’t know, in detail, is how Andrej (Fecks) came by it and why it is so important to him. In Banyak & Fecks, we not only learn how Fecks got the pebble, but also why and what it means.

As I was writing Banyak & Fecks, I realised that this small object carries the weight of the story’s theme – the series’ theme in fact: friendship and male bonding; bromance if you like. The pebble is a symbol, and although not mentioned in every book, is still in Silas’ possession at the end of book eight.
The pebble also has significance for me, and I don’t mind sharing that with you. In fact, I can do better and show you a photo of it.

I’ve had this pebble since I was 16. (It is 1.5 inches wide and sitting in a bowl made from a coconut shell I bought in Croatia.) It was given to me by my best friend, Andrew when we were walking on the beach. It was just a ‘Here you go, a present for no reason,’ moment, and nothing more romantic because our relationship was platonic. However, it meant much to me; it must have done as I still have it 41 years later. That sense of best-friendship, strong platonic love between one young man and another, is what drives the Clearwater Mysteries, or the relationships side of the stories, and I guess, the overarching theme stems from then, my teenage years.

Fecker and his horses

Another piece of backstory which is never fully explained in the series is Fecker, his horses, and his riding ability. In book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’ we have a classic ‘chasing a steam train on horseback’ scene. Archer (Viscount Clearwater) and his crew have answered a call to confront his nemesis, the Ripper. During the scene, the new footman, James, finds himself inching along the side of the coal cars at speed, trying to reach the cabin to pull the brakes and stop the train from crashing. At one point, he is hanging by his fingertips, in danger of falling to his death, when Fecker gallops alongside, stands and pushes James back to safety before calming riding on. How can he do this? At some point in the stories, Silas has said something vague like ‘He trained in a circus’, and it’s kind of left at that. In ‘Banyak & Fecks’, however, we find out how Fecks came to work in a circus, what he learnt there, and the dreadful thing that happened to make him leave. You might also be interested to know that a horse he has towards the start of the story is called ‘Banyak’, a word that in Ukrainian slang, means ‘idiot’. The word also has another, kinder, meaning which is explained in the book, as is the way in which Silas and Andrej came to call each other Banyak and Fecks.

Fecker’s skill with and love of horses is also developed in book four, ‘Fallen Splendour’, by which time he has become Clearwater’s coachman, and fallen in love with Lucy, a maid.

Sexuality in The Clearwater Mysteries

Hang on, didn’t Silas and Andrej work as rent boys in the East End? How can Fecker do that if he’s straight? Ah-ha! This is also explained in ‘Banyak & Fecks.’

My vision of ‘The White Ship’ where Banyak and Fecks lived in the East End

Andrej was 16 when, by necessity, he turned to renting on the streets of Genoa. Without being too graphic, most men will remember how easy it is to, um, perform at that age and beyond, and how embarrassing it was that one’s hormones often kicked in at the most inopportune moments. Fecker is still renting when we first meet him in ‘Deviant Desire’, but stops as soon as he doesn’t need to do it anymore. He does it because he can and must, not because he wants to. Having said that, there’s a scene in ‘Banyak & Fecks’ where he loses himself in a moment, can’t help himself, and kisses another man. By this time, he’s about 18, and, we would now say, confused (slightly) about his sexuality.

Silas’ sexuality is in no doubt from the moment we first meet him in the prequel, and he loves the fact it makes him a criminal because he’s quite proud to be one. He too undergoes a confusing transition, from wanting to know what sex with a man is like, to his first time with X (spoiler avoidance there), to finding it mundane when renting. It’s not until he meets Archer, however, that he is fully able to be himself, and that happens in ‘Deviant Desire.’

Running through the series, but not starting from the prequel, is the theme of Archer’s, Thomas’ and James’ sexuality. Later, we meet Jasper and Billy, also of the same ‘persuasion’, we’re never quite sure about Doctor Markland (but then neither is he), and there are even questions about which way Mrs Norwood leans, and what Lady Marshall has got up to in her past. In my Clearwater world, I wanted everyone to be gay, but that’s not realistic, but there’s no doubt that my core characters are. Apart from Fecker, who is always something of an enigma.

Making connections

One of the fun things about writing a prequel after eight books that follow it was laying down connections and bringing in backstories from the books that follow, if you follow me.

For example, in book three, ‘Unspeakable Acts’, Silas returns to a boy brothel at Cleaver Street. (I took my inspiration for that one from the Cleveland Street scandal of 1889.) He remembers being taken there by a man called Eddie Lovemount who propositioned him in The Ten Bells when Silas was renting. In ‘Banyak & Fecks’, we see that meeting and what followed, and Silas’ experiences at the brothel are set out in more detail. Eddie also mentions a messenger boy he’s got his eye on. He fancies him, but the lad won’t play ball, and he names him as James Wright. We meet James in book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’ (and briefly in book one), and there, we learn more about him and Eddie Lovemount and their days as messenger boys. James then has a meteoric rise from messenger to footman to valet to private detective, but that’s the kind of magic Clearwater weaves.

While putting these scenes together, I had to refer back – or forwards – to books already written to make sure my facts tied up. While doing that, I made a few minor changes to books one to four (nothing that alters the plot, mainly getting rid of words that weren’t in existence then, like homosexual, teenager and okay), so it was a useful exercise in that respect.

Similarly, because Banyak & Fecks ends just as ‘Deviant Desire’ is about to begin, the end of the prequel takes place once the Ripper murders have started. ‘Deviant Desire’ begins after the third (or fourth) murder, and they and the Ripper are the ‘action plot’ if you will. So, when I came towards the end of the prequel, I needed to remind myself of how book one starts and was able to bring in more facts and details from the real Ripper murders. In a couple of cases, I have quoted sections from actual news reports of the time, changing only names to suit my story. I was also able to bring the victims into the story, as many of the Ripper’s victims knew each other, and so, when you read Banyak & Fecks, you will meet some of the unfortunate boys who don’t make it to the end of the book.

So, what’s next?

As I said, ‘Banyak & Fecks’ should be available soon. My proof-reader is currently going through it, no doubt tutting at my punctuation, Andjela, the designer, is working on the back cover, and when I have both, I shall have one more read-through, make up the Kindle and print files and send it on its way.

Which begs the question, what to write next? I must admit I’ve been in limbo land these past couple of weeks unsure whether to return to Clearwater and write a book nine or look at something else. Book eight, ‘One of a Pair’ feels like the end of something in the way that book four ‘Fallen Splendour’ feels like the end of a chapter or the halfway point in a longer epic, and I have been wondering where to go now.

I also have my Saddling series to finish (as James Collins), because that’s crying out for a fourth and final book. At the same time, I have this inner stirring which feels like the need to start on another series entirely. I’m still thinking gay, mysterious, adventurous and Victorian, and wonder if I am being drawn towards Steampunk. It’s not a genre I’ve read, even though my husband has The Steampunk Bible and likes the fashion, but I like the thought of inventing another world within Victorian London. After all, I’ve done so much research for The Clearwater Mysteries, it would be a shame not to use it.

So, I will leave you on that note – hopefully looking forward to ‘Banyak & Fecks’ and telling all your friends to read the series, and I’ll take a couple of days off while I wait for inspiration to smack me in the face.

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