Interview With Jackson Marsh, Author of The Clearwater Mysteries series

Interview With Frank Anthony of Let Me Be Frank.
August 24, 2020
Season 8: Preview
October 1, 2020

Can you tell us more about yourself?

Jackson Marsh was born in 2017 as the pen name for James Collins so I could publish my new gay fiction independently from my other writing work.

I was born on the south coast of England during a blizzard in 1963, but now like to warm things up with MM romance novels, gay mysteries and some occasional erotica. In 2007 I was awarded an EGPA award for my erotic short stories, and I have won three Best Screenplay awards for my film scripts. I am a diverse writer with thrillers, comedies and horror stories under my James belt, and now romance and mystery under my Jackson belt.

Although I spend most of my time researching and writing, I do have other interests. It’s a strange collection of playing the piano, building classic horror model kits and, when I can, travelling. Past interests, which I still follow but no longer pursue so much, include rock climbing, musical theatre and genealogy. That’s probably why my books tend to involve characters who are musicians, writers, mystery-solvers, and rock climbers; there’s a bit of me in each one of them.

I live on a Greek island with my husband, we have been here since 2002.

Greece, home of Jackson Marsh, Author of The Clearwater Mysteries series
Gay mystery books, Jackson Marsh, Author of The Clearwater Mysteries series

What do you like to do when you are not writing?

I spend most of my time writing, but when I am not at the desk, I am usually researching and buying books. However, I also take time out to play the piano, in fact I am teaching my godson to play, and I also accompany a singer once a week.

Living on a small Greek island, it is tempting to spend time at the kafeneion watching the world go by, and I do a fair amount of that in the summer months as my husband works an afternoon shift at one of our local bars. But, to stay healthy, I also go for walks in the mountains, which is an excellent time to think of what will be in the next chapter I write when I get home.

When we can, we also love to travel. In March we flew to Canada and took the 5-day rail trip from Toronto to Vancouver, this had been a dream of mine for years, it was an amazing experience and one which will need to feature in a future book!
Recently, I have taken up model making again, a hobby from 40 years ago, and my favourites are the Aurora classic horror model kits of the 60s and 70s.

What inspired you to start writing?

My first inspiration came from an English teacher at prep school. When I was 11, he set the class a task to write a short story based around what was happening in the news, and I wrote some dramatic horror short about a collapsing pyramid inspired by the horror of the Moorgate Tube Disaster of 1975. My teacher asked me to rewrite it, and thus, taught me the benefits of editing and rewrites, and although I found it a laborious task, my story was chosen as the best in the class, and was announced as such to the whole school. From then on, I started writing stories, music and musicals, and have been doing it ever since.

How long have you been writing?

As above, I started when I was at school where I had excellent teachers. When I was in my teens, my music teacher encouraged me to write songs for the younger classes, which I did, and hearing them being sung as I passed the music room inspired me to write more. When I was 17, the school gave me the resources to write, use of the theatre and so I put on a couple of revues. My local church also allowed me to present other musical works for which I wrote the words. I started seriously writing fiction in 1996, but only when I moved to Greece in 2002 was I able to find the time to write more, and I took up writing as a profession in 2005, writing copy for websites, while also writing novels.

How do you handle writer’s block?

I’m pleased to say I don’t very often suffer from writer’s block. When I do, it is usually just after I finish a novel. If, by then, I’ve not got an idea for the next one, I leave the idea of writing another story alone, and concentrate on something else, usually research, while looking around for ideas. I take long walks in the early morning, let my mind wander and something usually pops into my head. I also go back to previous ideas and see if there’s anything started and never finished that lights a spark, and that sometimes helps.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

That’s difficult to answer as I have always been writing something, but not always as a way of making an income. Back in 2005, I fell, by accident, into writing copy for websites, and then began writing gay erotica for some others, and that somehow led to writing reviews of other websites, and that started to bring in an income. I’ve been doing it ever since, so I’d say I consider myself a professional writer from 2005.

How do you do research for your books?

My currents series is set in 1888 and 1889 England, so there is a wealth of research material. I use online resources for quick and easy access to information, but I love buying books, and now have a substantial collection on Victoriana from railways to crime. If I want a research book instantly, I use Kindle, but I prefer the hardcopy, so generally buy online and wait. Documentaries are also helpful, as are those films where I trust the makers to be accurate. I am fortunate to have friends who are experts in various fields, railways, fashion, medicine and history, for example, and they are, so far, happy to confirm facts for me, especially those found online.

That research is mainly technical. For the emotional side of stories, the human side if you like, I rely on memory, observation, listening to people and at times, my own experiences which I transform into character experiences.

On a typical day, how much time do you spend writing?

My ideal working day starts at about 5.30 in the morning, earlier in the summer when it’s extremely hot, and runs until four in the afternoon usually with two hours off at lunchtime. I spend a couple of hours on the paid work and on my blogs, admin and so on, and then usually spend around six hours on a novel. On really good days, with no admin or blogs, I can spend eight hours writing, and when I am ‘on a roll’ that can be for seven days per week.

What was your favorite part, and your least favorite part, of the publishing journey?

My favourite part of publishing is the freedom self-publishing allows me, to write and publish what I want without having to deal with publishers’ demands for something that ‘fits their list.’ I write what I’d like to read, edit it, have it edited and proof read, so I collaborate there but under my terms, and I use a professional designer for the covers to ensure the best book possible.

My least favourite parts are ‘pressing the button’ and sending the final book up to Amazon when I start to worry that I’ve messed up the layout or something. My second least favourite part is rereading what I have already published and finding typos that slipped through, or the use of certain words that weren’t in existence in 1888, for example, and thinking, ‘Damn, I missed that.’ At least with self-publishing, I can easily make edits to the MS and upload it again. Luckily, this doesn’t happen too often.

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

I also write under my real name, James Collins and have written three books about living on Symi, a couple of comedies and a few thrillers. So, as James Collins, I have written 13 novels, and my favourite is ‘The Saddling’, a mystery/horror set in modern times but in a remote village that is stuck in the past. ‘The Saddling’ is the first of three books in a series of four, and the fourth will be written one day.

As Jackson Marsh, I have now written four standalone MM mystery love stories, a set of four ‘Mentor’ books which are older/younger MM romances, and a follow-up to one of them, plus seven Clearwater Mysteries with number eight, ‘One of a Pair’ about to come out and number nine being written right now, so that’s 16 novels so far for Jackson, but a total of 29 for me. Good Lord. I’ve only just realised, that’s quite a lot!

I am totally absorbed in my current series and it is difficult to choose my favourite as they all flow into each other. Maybe my favourite, at the moment, is the prequel I am writing for the series with the working title ‘Banyak and Fecks.’ When the series starts, Silas and Andrej (nicknames, Banyak and Fecks) have already met, the son of an Irish immigrant and a Ukrainian refugee. I am now writing their individual stories of why/how they left home and came to London, how they came to meet, and what happened during the time of The Ripper just before ‘Deviant Desire’, book one, starts. [See below, what I am currently writing.]

What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your books?

I’m tempted to say, ‘That people like to read them,’ but that sounds insecure. Equally, I could say I’m surprised that some people don’t like them, which sounds big-headed. I think, modesty aside, I would say that I am surprised at how well they do and what good feedback I get because I write them primarily for myself, so there must be lots of people out there who like to read what I like to write.

Who is your favorite character?

The problem with that question is, there are so many characters, where do I start? To be fair, this past 18 months I have been working on the Clearwater Mysteries and I like all the main characters so much, I am unable to kill any off. They are a group of men, gay and straight, existing in 1888, a mix of nobility and servants who, over the course of the series, bond, fall in love, fall out and survive. Out of all of them, there are two who stand out for me.

Archer, Lord Clearwater of the title, personifies all that is and should be good about people with wealth and power: generosity, compassion, good humour and humanism. I like him because he is a man who could choose to live a wealthy life and play by the rules of Victorian society and etiquette, while hiding his homosexuality, but instead, he funds a charity for homeless rent boys, always does what is right and yet has flaws that can only be healed by those below him in class structure. He is also flippant and witty, and I like to think of him as me. (Except I don’t have his title and wealth.)

The other comes from the opposite end of the scale, though is in the same series, and is an immigrant from Ukraine. Andrej left his homeland when he was 14 and walked/rode across Europe to stowaway on a boat from Genoa to London because his family had been killed and/or are missing. He is driven to survive so that when the troubles in his homeland are over, he can return and rebuild his family. He is straight, but worked as a renter, and is 100% loyal to friends. He has suffered as an immigrant, but is always there to help others. He is not gay but protects his gay friends, and he’s not backwards at coming forward. He offers humour in the stories because of his character but is a pillar of strength to everyone around him. I’m currently writing an ‘aside novel’ describing his journey and experiences up until the start of the Clearwater series.

Tell us about your first published book? What was the journey like?

Not counting an historical pamphlet of the church in Hythe, Kent which I researched when I was 13 and put together with the same English teacher who inspired me at prep school (the first time my name appeared in print)… My first published novel has an interesting story.

I was here, on Symi, Greece, on holiday in 1996 and saw a group of lads on a yacht, larking naked and having a great time. It sparked off a ‘What if…?’ and I set about writing it while still on holiday. Returning home, I finished it, and sent it to the Gay Men’s Press. They were on the verge of accepting it and assigning an editor when, sadly, the company went bust. I wasn’t disheartened, however. I found an agent, who read it, promptly had a heart attack and retired (not my fault), and so I turned to writing other stories for my own amusement. When self-publishing became a ‘thing’, I was able to release the book, and it’s now in the Jackson Marsh catalogue as ‘Other People’s Dreams.’

Can you share with us something about the book that isn’t in the blurb?

I am assuming we are talking about ‘One of a Pair’, the eighth book in the Clearwater series. The trouble here is that this is a mystery and I don’t want to give away any spoilers. The book is a follow-up to ‘Home from Nowhere’, and the two are slightly different to the previous Clearwater Mysteries. Books one to six have mysteries, are based on facts and involve daring and near-death chases and action while ‘Home from Nowhere’ and ‘One of a Pair’ are gentler. ‘Cosy’ mysteries you might call them.

What’s not in the blurb for ‘One of a Pair’ however, is a mention of the humour, sometimes rather dark, that appears when we have a medical examiner and our main character alone in the morgue, frying sausages and discussing botulism and poisoning. There is another humorous moment when a character is assumed to be a potential client of the homeless rent boy facility and there’s a mix-up, and there are other quirky passages and events that I hope will bring smiles to readers’ faces.

Something worth adding, which is in none of the Clearwater blurbs, is the fact that just about all facts in the stories are true. Railways journeys are based on timetables of the time, some of the characters are real people, Arthur Sullivan, Bram Stoker, Henry Irving etc., though events around them are fictional.

Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?

They all do, but there is one who stands out and he’s only just entered the Clearwater series. Jasper Blackwood popped up in book five, ‘Artful Deception’ as a hall boy in the employ of a hideous Earl who used him as a punchbag. I didn’t intend Jasper to appear again, but having finished ‘Artful Deception’, and knowing I wanted a slower, calmer instalment for book seven, Jasper popped into my head.

Jasper had suffered physical abuse, came from the workhouse, and even though he is aged 18, had spent his life below stairs and has hardly been off the Earl’s estate, thus, he is very innocent of the world outside. However, he is a natural and brilliant musician and has a photographic memory, so he can see a piece of music, remember it, and even with only basic lessons, knows how to play it. It’s only when Lord Clearwater takes him to his London home and appoints him as an assistant housekeeper, learns of his skill, and encourages it, Jasper is able to flourish. That flourishing includes his coming out (which is completely acceptable in Clearwater’s world), and a love story ensues. The mystery, of course, is, how come he is so naturally talented, and who are his parents?

I like Jasper because he is so innocent and modest, and, as he develops, becomes secure in his love for his friend, and is not afraid to speak his mind.

Tell us about the process for coming up with the cover.

The cover for ‘One of a Pair’ is going through the same process as all my books since I started writing as Jackson Marsh. I have a designer, Andjela K who, I think, lives in Russia. I send her ideas for a cover, maybe a couple of photos as examples, and write descriptions of my ideas. She then comes back with the perfect image as if she read the whole book overnight and is on the same wavelength, and that’s rather startling. Actually, we do go through several changes, and with the up-coming cover, I changed the model shot, she added something I’d not thought of, we then changed something else, and we’re nearly there. I usually have the front cover ready before the book is proofed, so I can start publicity, and Andjela later adds the wraparound cover and works out the spine, when I know exactly how many pages we have. It’s become an easy process, and is not laborious at all.

What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?

Chemistry! ‘One of a Pair’ is about a poisoning, but I wanted to stay away from the usual clichés, so I had to find a way of someone being poisoned that was unusual, and yet possible. Again, I don’t want to give spoilers, so I can’t give details. Luckily, I have a brother who is a chemist and my nephew has studied medical genetics (I got the art gene, they got the science). They gave me plenty of ideas and we bantered messages back and forth about compounds and causes, effects and all kinds of thing I didn’t understand, but which my brother checked and declared unusual but possible, and he took all the weight of chemical research from me which saved me several headaches.

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What was the highlight of writing this book?

The highlight for me, when writing any book, but particularly the Clearwater Mysteries, is when I write or read back a section and I cry because the piece has moved me. The same applies when I find something funny and it makes me laugh each time I read it. Better, is when my husband reads the first draft and comes into my study wiping his eyes and calling me a bastard for making him cry with joy, or, better, when I hear him laugh from the other room and I know it’s not because of a typo.

Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers?

Currently, I am writing a prequel to The Clearwater Mysteries. The series starts in October 1888 when ‘the Ripper’ is on the streets of ‘Greychurch’ (Whitechapel) and is killing rent boys not women. It opens with Silas Hawkins and Andrej (the Ukrainian immigrant) trying to get by on the streets, renting and avoiding death. These two arrive in the first chapter with a four-year history together, and I thought it was time we knew what that history was. So, currently I am working on the prequel, ‘Banyak and Fecks’, their nicknames for each other.

The story starts back in 1881 with Andrej (Fecks) leaving the Ukraine and walking across Europe. Silas (Banyak) has a story that starts in the slums of Westerpool (the Wirral) in 1884, and as we follow Andrej’s story, so Silas’ starts, and when he reaches London later in 1884, the two stories join. Unlike the other Clearwater Mysteries, this novel isn’t about a mystery as such, and there’s no heart-pumping action plot, it’s about friendship in adversity and the life of the unfortunates of East London in times of great poverty and danger.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

It comes from inside and sometimes, I can’t explain it. ‘Deviant Desire’, the first Clearwater Mystery was inspired by another ‘What if?’ moment. In his case, what if Jack the Ripper killed rent boys? It grew from there. I’m a bit of a Ripper ‘fan’ but not a Ripperologist by any means, but I had already read many books about the unsolved murders, and had an interest in the Victorian East End, having lived there (not in those times), so once the idea came into my head, it was easy to imagine the place and find the characters. Adding in the rich/poor, older/younger love story, and then developing a mystery around it was easy.

So, inspiration comes from within, sometimes, and at other times, from something I happen to see or hear. Example: My husband was watching a body-swap romantic comedy on television one day when I passed through the living room, glanced at it, and thought, ‘What about a gay/straight body-swap rom com?’ The next day, I set about writing ‘Remotely’ as James Collins, and it’s still selling well. ‘Other People’s Dreams’ came from seeing those youths on a boat.

In the Clearwater series, inspiration has come from my love of theatre (‘Unspeakable Acts’), Tennyson’s poetry (‘Fallen Splendour’) and also my interest in Dracula and Bram Stoker (‘Bitter Bloodline’). I’ve also written ‘The Stoker Connection’ about the writing of Dracula, which is a YA MM romance based on the idea, ‘What if all Stoker did was put together real diaries? What if Dracula was real?’ inspiration comes at any time and in many forms, but I’m just glad it comes at all.

Who is your favorite author and why?

You may have guessed, Bram Stoker, but that’s mainly because of ‘Dracula’ and ‘The Jewel of Seven Stars’ (his others I find slightly laborious). As well as him, I read historical fact and fiction, so Peter Ackroyd, Edward Rutherford and Ken Follett.

What are you reading now?

A bit embarrassing this, and hardly surprising, but on my reading pile right now are, ‘The Garrick Club, a history’ by Geoffrey Wansell, ‘Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving (1906)’ by Bram Stoker, and ‘The Gates of Europe, a history of Ukraine’ by Serhii Plokhy. For lighter reading, when I have time, I have Poe’s ‘Tales of Mystery and Imagination,’ and ‘The Vulgar Tongue, Buckish Slang and Pickpocket Eloquence’, a dictionary complied by Francis Grose. I know, but I don’t seem to have time to read fiction.

What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?

John Steinbeck for style and subtle storytelling, Stoker (‘Dracula’) for the use of diary form, which I love, and writers like James Herbert and John Grisham for being able to draw a reader in within seconds.  

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Who is the author you most admire in your genre?

I particularly admire the work of Isobel Starling, author of ‘The Resurrectionist’ series of Victorian Historical MM mystery, and Anthony MacDonald, author of ‘The Dog in the Chapel’ series, ‘Adam’ and many others.

Favorite quote

I have a few to choose from.

‘I love you enough to let you run, but too much to see you fall.’ My dad used to say that to me, and I’ve used it in my novels a few times.

‘Deception, the lie that tells the truth.’ Archer, Lord Clearwater in ‘Artful Deception.’

‘Let us go then you and I to a place where the wild thyme grows.’ A mashup of two famous quotes, spoken by one of the characters in my standalone mystery, ‘The Blake Inheritance.’  

And, from ‘One of a Pair,’ ‘Love is more than just a chemical reaction.’

Jackson Marsh links

Website: www.jacksonmarsh.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jacksonmarshauthor/

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jackson-Marsh/e/B077LDT5ZL/

The Clearwater Mysteries series page: https://www.amazon.com/gp/bookseries/B07RMTKN7V/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17332953.Jackson_Marsh

Queer Romance Ink: https://www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/jackson-marsh/

All Author: https://allauthor.com/author/JacksonMarsh/


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