January (2018) in Writing… Tax & ‘The Darkwood Mysteries (17): The Slaves of the Underground’…

BEHIND THE WRITING DESK_optMy January in writing started with a tax return. What fun. As my writing can only be considered a hobby considering my low earnings, I’m hopeful I will only have the 2017/2018 return to do before taking advantage of new tax rules allowing for a minimum of a £1000 additional earnings before the need for a separate taxation process beyond main earnings. Of course, I would like for my writing to earn me more than a £1000 and for that to by my main source of income… (I earned £320 last year, and while I know that will not pay any bills, that’s supported my board game habit, and I’m chuffed at earning anything from tapping away at my keyboard!)

January also saw me doing some writing too. With one wholly new project finished in ‘The Darkwood Mysteries (13): The Ghosts of the Black Museum’, I set about planning the next three. One of them proved to come more readily into my head than the others, so to avoid brain ache I just went with that one. The other two can get more head time to cook up into something easier to get into the keys. I opted for ‘The Darkwood Mysteries (17): The Slaves of the Underground’. It will be the penultimate of the next run in my series, but it will still pack a punch. It will see Darkwood and Hobbs separated under sad circumstances, and then reunited in desperate circumstances. The next run doesn’t let up on the bashing of Darkwood and Hobss. I’m a mean writer daddy. There will be a return of an old friend, an old enemy, a return monster, and a newly visited ancient Cthulhu style city. Read on for an extract after the jump…

It was pretty much worked out in my head, and had been for some time, but I wanted to use the 7 point plot structure again. I did more reading around on this and came across another nice way of looking at the 7 point story structure to plan or check the pacing of my work:

  1.  A character/characters… (The Hook)
  2. has a problem and sets out to solve it… (1st Plot Point)
  3. and encounters an obstacle… (1st Pinch Point)
  4. but learns something… (Mid-Point)
  5. which enables a second attempt… (2nd Plot Point)
  6. and encounters a greater obstacle… (2nd Pinch Point)
  7. which leads to a conclusion (The Resolution)


I found that my story broke down nicely into three ‘acts’; investigation, capture and escape, and each of these I broke down using the 7 point story arc. Instead of doing one for each character as I did for ‘Ghosts of the Black Museum’, I just did it for Jack Hobbs as he’s the main character throughout ‘Slaves of the Underground’. It worked well, and I found it really easy. As much as I don’t think stories should have an obvious ‘formula’, I like having this structure, and am reassured than it can be flexible. After all, many high dramas and action stories have a mix of pinch points. Using the structure this way, with 3 sets of 7, I get 6 pinch points, and 3 resolutions, 2 of which will act as cliffhangers, so not just a straight-forward dot to dot story writing. So, I now have each chapter planned out, and I have already made a good start on writing them.

Technicalities aside, here’s a tease of ‘The Slaves of the Underground’ with a very raw first chapter fresh from the writing desk–it’s not been edited, so please excuse any typos or terrible mistakes. This is the opening and finds Jack Hobbs in a desperate situation:

Chapter One: Falling on the Spike

1881. February. The date I fell from grace. The date I was cast out. The date I found myself homeless, and without income, and without friends. Even my Alice had turned her back on me. But what choice did she have if she were to keep her place in the Darkwood house? I wandered the streets of the city, calling upon households and businesses for work. With no references to offer, rough sleeping evident in my attire, and my desperation and shame in my eyes, it was no wonder my appearance at these doorways pleading my case caused me to be rejected time after time.

The bitter air whipped around me, lashing at my clothes, and cutting me to the bone. I could only be grateful it was February, and my expulsion hadn’t happened in January during the great blizzard. Three feet of snow would have ended me. As it was though, being cold and damp to my core of an empty belly, I knew I could not warm myself beyond my current frigid temperature. My case and all that I owned within it had been stolen in the night. I still could not fathom how I had managed to sleep so soundly beneath that railway arch so as to not feel the case being taken from beneath my arm. I could only think that the night-time plunge into icy coldness had caused my consciousness to retreat, perhaps to the brink of numbed oblivion. I clutched at the horse dung in my pockets, squeezing to the residual warmth within those nuggets. Even that elicited a groan of relief upon me.

What was a man without a home, without money, without relationships, without belongings but for the clothes upon me, and without even a hat? I felt naked to the world. With no possessions myself, I was also dispossessed. I had come from nothing, yet living on the street as a child had seemed easier than this. I had not been alone then, I had my Alice—Catherine then—and Peter. Together we had survived. Yes, there had been brutal hardships. Hunger, as I now experienced, but being a child had earned me sympathy, had allowed me to find a place within trades and within families with little asked but for my name and how I came to them. Now, as an adult, there was a wariness, a history that needed to be accounted for to explain my path to that door, and a suspicion that if I had ended up so rejected then there was cause for this to be so.

I walked the street, following the unbroken high wall of brick to my left, and the windows of a factory to my right. This side of the road was clear of pedestrians. People chose to walk the other side of the street in this area—near this place. What was it that caused this? Fear that others might assume their path to be to the door of this institution? Fear that somehow the institution might take up the wary passersby like some fairy tale beast? This place haunted all those who struggled to survive upon the streets. Work to eat, work for warmth, work for a roof over your head, cling to job and coin and suffer to survive—If you don’t you’ll end up in the workhouse. This was the unspoken drive that kept the city of the drowning kicking. Best to fight for the surface then rest at the bottom.

The workhouse—the house, the grubber, the treadmill, the breaker, the spike—had always frightened me. It offered shelter and food to the poor and destitute. But at a price.  It was one thing to struggle, but it was another to give-up and admit defeat. Doing so meant making a decision for all those dependent upon you too—wife, children, parents, all would have to enter the house. Peter and I had always been quick to leave a family that looked at risk of walking the pauper’s treadmill for fear we might be thought of as their children and taken with them. Segregated from all by your gender, age and ability, it was a regimented life of long laborious work, breaking rocks with a long hammer or picking oakum with a spike, and always in conditions deliberately beneath the standard that the lowest paid worker could expect. The workhouse did not want you. The state did not want to support you. It wanted to punish you for failing to look after yourself. Seemingly from the suspicion of indolence and abuse of charity. An attitude of society with means, which had somehow been taken up by the society without, or which bordered upon it. The workhouse meant asking of others which you should have been able to provide yourself. It meant shame. The workplace gave little but place and nourishment, and you left with the little or nothing you arrived with. Perhaps the worst aspect of the workhouse was that it was your choice to enter within and your choice when to leave. Yet, where is the choice when you have opportunity otherwise and can not support yourself beyond it? In a sense, the workhouse was a reprieve at best, a trap at worst. One that you willingly walked into the life of a slave pauper of the state.

The doorway extended from the wall and towered above me as a relief in brick bracing double panelled doors. A smaller door set within it. Upon it, a polished brass plaque stamped with “Hope House” infilled with black paint. Was this a lie? Did hope await? The building was hidden from view behind its curtain wall, just as a prison, which was what many thought of such places. Lock away the poor. Was there hope beyond these doors? I could hear nothing from within. The only sound of life was behind me. It was as quiet as the grave. How this doorway looked like the frontage of the great mausoleums of the outlying city graveyards. Yet the rumour was that this place offered a ‘second life’ to those who showed willing. Was it true? People arrived with nothing, subjected themselves to the workhouse, and it was said that some left for a new life sponsored by the benefactors of this institution.

In my desperation, I could barely hope for a meal, let alone a ‘second life’. I pulled the bell cord, and the solemn knell sounded above me. I knew I could not survive another night on the street. I could do nothing but fall upon the spike.

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