New Year Goals (+A Gentlemanly Murder teaser).

I don’t do resolutions so much as goal-setting, and I love that January 1st gives me so much scope for goals. I have yearly and January and quarterly goals, that I am excited about.

2017 Goals.

  • 8 books published.
  • 1 year entirely supported by writing.
  • Investing in my work (marketing/learning)

To go a little deeper into my goals, I published one book in 2015 (for money–three if you include freebies), and five in 2016. My end goal is to earn enough from fiction to support myself entirely by writing novels. Now, I’m a long way off that goal yet, but I did some math. In December, I covered roughly 48% of my living costs through writing. Now, my living costs are pretty low. I’m house-sitting, so my only costs are basically groceries, fuel and mobile phone. Of my writing earnings, half are from fiction, half are freelance writing. Ideally, I’d like to boost my income, to cover insurance, savings and start putting money into marketing. To make this happen, I’ve been doubling down on the freelance work and have some pretty cool projects lined up (crossing fingers). Freelance is a short term fix, as unlike fiction, once a project is complete, so is the total of my earnings. My goal is first, to cover all of my current living costs with writing, then increase my monthly total to include insurance and savings. Finally, I’d like to phase out freelance altogether, but I don’t think that  is going to happen in 2017. If I can keep this up for an entire year, that will be enough. My fear is that working on freelance is going to take my energy away from fiction writing and might not be sustainable, in which case I’m going to look for a job, but that is the current plan.

Anyway, the eight books! I’ve got two main projects I want to tackle in 2017. I want to focus on Thorns and Fangs, revising book three and Aki’s story and getting both ready to submit. I also want to write and submit the fourth book in the series. I want to build on my current momentum and get the books out quicker so that the reading experience is more cohesive.

My next book goal is that I want to branch out and experiment with a different genre. I’ve got three books in a vintage-murder series that I want to write and release, possibly under a slightly different pen name. I’m still working out the details, but I’m excited to try something new, hopefully getting my stories in front of a larger audience. I have to admit, that this is as scary as it is exciting, but I think I’m ready to give this a try.

Finally, I have the next book in the For the Love of Christmas! series, and Over Familiar on my to-do list. I’ve got a few other projects I’d love to sneak in time for along the way, but these eight are the main ones, and honestly, they will probably keep me busy enough!

January Goals.

  • finish Murder #1
  • re-plot TDL
  • Freelance project 1
  • regular blog posts
  • schedule reading time
  • plot second murder

 

To give you a teaser for 2017, I’ve got the first two scenes of A Gentlemanly Murder behind the cut. Keep in mind this is a warts and all first draft, so it is likely to change dramatically before publication–in fact it is guaranteed to change dramatically. Let me know what you think!


People without artistic talent tend to describe it as a gift. Some even term it a Blessing with a capital B, the possession of which is ample recompense for the inconveniences an artist faces—namely, the long hours of labour, the uncertainty of the reward, the difficulties of attracting attention in a market already surfeited with artists, and the coldness of the studio. To suffer for one’s art is itself a privilege.

No one had ever described Peregrine Fogg as violent. His motto was something along the lines of ‘better to be meek than sorry.’ He lived up to this maxim by being a nondescript young man attired in a suit that had seen several seasons go by in the capacity of spectator, over-large spectacles that gave his face a permanently apologetic expression, and hair the colour of weak tea. Still, if anyone had told Peregrine just then how fortunate he was in his gift, they might have come dangerously close to finding out what will happen when the meek inherit the earth. Peregrine’s hopes were being soundly crushed.

The curator of the art gallery whose office he was standing in looked down at the painting Peregrine had brought him and slowly shook his head. “It’s good,” he said cautiously. “Very good. I particularly like this one.”

But you won’t take it, Peregrine thought. “But?”

The curator sighed. “You’re a very talented young man. But talent is not enough to build a career on.”

This was too much even for Peregrine. “I work hard. You know how hard.”

The curator nodded. “You’ve been bringing your paintings to me for months now, and I can see the improvement in your work. You’ve not been idle, that is certain. But talent and hard work alone are no longer enough. An artist has to have something more. He needs a name.”

Peregrine blinked. “A name?”

The curator beckoned Peregrine to follow him. In a moment, they stood outside his office, looking down at the first floor of the gallery, where fashionably dressed patrons drifted from one painting to another. “Look at those paintings. What is your opinion of them?”

They were landscapes of the sort popular in the Regency period. Ruins, recorded in painstaking detail and lacking any imagination. Peregrine bit his lip. “The artist is conscientious …”

The curator was not hampered by tact. “The greater part of Sotherby’s art is merely copying what he sees. He invests no meaning in to it. You’d get the same effect with a photographer. But he draws a crowd. Do you know why?”

Peregrine shook his head.

“He has a name. He’s cousins with Sotherby—you know, the Earl.”

Peregrine, who knew Sotherby, had a feeling that the relationship was rather more distant. Second cousins, at best. “But the Earl didn’t paint these pictures.”

“No, but his name is enough to get people in the gallery. People are curious, but they also want to be reassured that they won’t waste their time. The Earl of Sotherby is a pillar of society, and his views are such that most matrons in London, seeing his name attached to a gallery write-up feel they can take their daughters to view the pictures without fear of the young ladies seeing anything untoward. And the young men—”

“Come to look at the young ladies,” Peregrine said. He’d noticed that not all eyes in the gallery were on the pictures.

“Art is a great conversation point,” the curator said with composure. “But they won’t come without something to draw them, and I’m afraid that an unknown artist, no matter how talented, must still draw a crowd.”

“I can’t build a reputation unless I exhibit,” Peregrine protested. “And you tell me that I can’t exhibit unless I have a reputation?”

“If you had a wealthy Uncle, or perhaps a friend willing to bankroll the costs, it would be another thing,” the curator said. “I say, are you all right?”

A peculiar grimace had crossed Peregrine’s face. He shook his head quickly. “Just reflecting on my bad luck in being named ‘Fogg.’”

“Yes. Well.” The curator reached for the train of his thought. “In addition to talent and hard work, an artist needs one more thing to be successful these days. Either luck in catching the attention of someone influential, a patron who will draw crowds on his behalf, or genius—and genius is much harder to court than the other two, and much less satisfactory. Genius can be misunderstood or neglected, a wealthy patron less so.”

It took effort for Peregrine to smile pleasantly. “And if I can do that—find a wealthy patron, I mean—you’ll take my paintings?”

The curator laughed. “It’s that or make Fogg a household name.”

–oOo–

Peregrine walked slowly back to his rooms. It is a tribute to the amount of willpower he possessed that not one of the hundreds of people who passed him in the street or climbing all the flights of stairs to his loft studio had any idea when they glanced at him, that Peregrine was a man very near the end of his rope. The painting he’d shown the curator had taken him the best part of a month to complete. He’d gone without meals in order to buy the canvas. The many hopes he’d had for it’s reception had been dashed by the curator—the latest in a line of polite but definite refusals. Even the fact that it had not been a complete refusal didn’t offer Peregrine any hope.

When he at last arrived outside the door of his loft, Peregrine sighed in relief. He was ready to drop his mask of indifference, and give vent to the bottled up feelings that had been boiling up since the curator’s refusal.

Unfortunately someone had beaten him to it.

As Peregrine opened his door, a young woman looked up in acute dismay. She was sitting on the better of Peregrine’s two chairs and her hat tossed on the floor. Her eyes were red, and there were tell-tale tracks of tears on her cheeks. “Oh!” Her mouth worked soundlessly as she tried to find some words.

Peregrine swallowed. “Hello, Mary. I hope you haven’t been waiting long?” He set the canvas he was carrying, wrapped in newspaper to protect it from the vagaries of London, against one wall, deliberately keeping his back to his guest. “You’ll want some tea, I suppose.” He made for little paraffin stove in the partition he’d fashioned for himself with a sheet, that separated his living space from the studio. Sitting on his bed, Peregrine willed the jug to take its time.

Peregrine looked in the tin set on his wash stand. Almost empty. He could eke out the leaves, make it last another two days. As Peregrine hesitated, a sniff from the other side of the sheet indicated that Mary was taking possession of herself. He bit his lip, then added the remaining leaves. Anything that could upset Mary did not bode well. His cousin was known for her good sense and self-command, ever since she’d taken over at thirteen the position of Lady Grosbeak on the death of her mother. Anything that could rattler her self command was not going to be met with weak tea.

Peregrine loaded the tray of tea things with enough noise to clearly signal his movements. “Here,” he said, emerging at last. “I hope you don’t mind that I don’t have any milk.”

“Of course I don’t Perry. It’s very good of you to give me tea at all, showing up like this entirely uninvited.” Mary smiled at him, replacing the last of her hat pins. Her eyes still held the tell-tale signs of tears, but her manner was unruffled. “Shall I pour?”

Peregrine carefully removed the hat from the remaining seat and sat. “Please.” He considered the hat thoughtfully. At least three different birds had given their feathers for its decoration making it an ideal hat for walking in town and an object of envy to any nesting bird.

Mary poured two cups of tea with the ease of a decade of entertaining her father’s guests and they sat in silence.

Now that the initial alarm had worn off, Peregrine found himself studying his cousin. Her ample chestnut hair was piled on top of her head, and she wore a two-piece walking suit in serviceable brown. Modest, yet fashionable—but that was Mary all over. She’d probably been paying calls—and had somehow ended up all the way across town in Peregrine’s unfashionable studio?

“I needed that.” Mary set down her cup of tea with a sigh. “After a good cry, there’s nothing better than a hot drink.”

“Have another,” Peregrine urged.

Mary shook her head. “I’m all right. I’m sorry, Perry. I didn’t want anyone to see me in this state.”

Peregrine set his cup of tea down. “What’s wrong?”

Mary pursed her lips. “It’s very stupid.”

“Nothing that could upset you would be stupid. You’re the most capable woman I know, Mary.”

Mary shook her head. “I’m about to irreparably damage your good opinion of myself, Perry. The cause of all these hysterics is nothing more than Lady Palmer—you don’t know Lady Palmer, do you?” Peregrine shook his head. “Old-school. Hasn’t changed her bonnet since Victoria died. Anyway, she called on me this morning to ask if I would kindly act as chaperone at the Weatherington’s ball for her niece.”

Mary went to many balls. As a single woman of good family and fortune, it was expected of her. Peregrine frowned.

“Chaperone,” Mary repeated. “In other words, I’ve passed my use-by date and I haven’t found a husband. It’s time to step aside and let the younger woman have the field.”

Peregrine stared at his cousin. “I’m sure she didn’t mean that!”

“Of course she didn’t. Women like Lady Palmer don’t think. But I do—and I have to say that it took a great deal of self control for me not to say any of the things I thought just then.”

Peregrine stood, placing an awkward hand on his cousin’s arm. “Lady Palmer doesn’t know a thing, Mary. You’re charming, a pleasure to dance with—”

“I’m twenty-six,” Mary said. “Practically in my grave.”

Peregrine glanced at her. “You’re a woman who would do credit to any man in London.”

“They don’t think so.”

“They don’t know what they’re missing,” Peregrine said with heat.

“It could be worse.” Mary began to pat her thick rolls of hair back into place. “At least we’re not living in the Middle Ages. I’ve got no fear that I’ll be sent to a nunnery.”

“There’d be no one to run your father’s house if you did.”

Mary smiled at him. “Exactly. How often does he say he doesn’t know what he’ll do without me?” She sighed. “All the same, I’m not looking forward to this season. All of my friends are married now, leaving me with a lot of girls and their silly flirtations.”

“You didn’t say yes?”

“What else could I say? The girl’s a pet—and not as foolish as most debutantes. And I’ll do a good sight better than her great-Aunt at launching her. Lady Palmer’s the type to leave a girl as soon as they’ve been announced, trusting that she’ll find her feet. Girls want prompting.”

Peregrine shook his head. “Back to your old tricks. You’re a regular Emma Woodhouse, Mary.”

“I’m more successful than Emma Woodhouse at any rate. She only had the one marriage to her credit. I’ve had six.”

“No wonder Lady Palmer sought you out.”

Mary frowned. “Do you think that’s it? Not—”

Peregrine nodded. “I’m sure that it’s your skill at making sure the right people meet each other in the best possible circumstances that brought Lady Palmer to you. You’ve already been thinking of possible partners for this girl, haven’t you?”

“It did occur to me that Major Rockwell is old, but very gallant, and would be delighted to have a pretty young thing as a partner. She’ll have a few dances with him to take off her nerves, at which point I’d introduce her to—Perry, you’re laughing at me.”

“I’m doing no such thing.”

“You’re smiling.” Mary’s accusation would have had more bite if she wasn’t smiling herself. “Perhaps I am an incurable matchmaker. And chaperoning the girl will give the season more of an interest.”

“That’s the spirit.”

“Careful, Perry. Or I might invite you to one of these things.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“Try me.” Mary grinned at him. “Now, how did you get on at the gallery?”

Peregrine looked blankly at her. “How did you know?”

Mary waved her gloves at him. “I’m no Holmes, but when I observe an artist enter his studio with a canvas wrapped in paper, it’s a pretty good certainty that he has just returned from showing that painting to someone.”

Peregrine looked down. “As a matter of fact, I did go to the gallery.”

“And?”

Peregrine thought desperately. How to conceal his failure?

It was no use. Mary knew him well enough to read his silence. “Oh, Perry. I am sorry.”

Peregrine shrugged. “He said I had talent. Not enough talent to merit an exhibition, of course, but talent.”

“Didn’t he see your painting?” Mary sat up. “How much more talented does he want?”

Mary had the same effect on Peregrine that the tea had on her. He found himself pouring out the whole story. “So he pretty much said that unless I can find a fashionable patron, I’m out of luck.”

“And you let me prattle on to you about my nonsense? Perry, you should have said something.”

“What’s there to say? I knew that being an artist wouldn’t be easy.”

“But it’s not fair.” Mary frowned. “You didn’t tell him about your Uncle?”

“Of course not.”

“But Perry, the man said a wealthy relative was as good as a patron!”

“And if I do that, I’ve not proved anything! I’m just trading on your father’s reputation.”

“Father’s reputation won’t sell your paintings—it will just get people in front of them. Your art will do the rest.”

“Impossible.” Peregrine shook his head. “You know what the terms of the allowance your father is granting me is. I’m allowed to be an artist, so long as there is no hint of my being connected to the rest of the family.”

Mary’s jaw tightened. For a moment, she looked very like Lord Grosbeak. “I’m sure that father had no idea of how difficult it is to be an artist these days. I’ll talk to him—”

“Please don’t. I agreed to his terms, Mary, and I mean to stick to them.”

“But—”

“There are other ways. I just need to find a wealthy philanthropist with an interest in the arts.”

Mary frowned. “You’ve got the family pride, all right. But you can’t be too proud, Perry. You need to fight with everything you’ve got.”

“I mean to. But the fight’s got to be on my terms—my merits. I—”

There was a knock at the door.

“Expecting anyone?” Mary stood.

Peregrine shook his head, handing her hat back to her. “No-one.”

“Perhaps it’s your wealthy philanthropist.”

There was a second knock. Whoever was on the other side of the door, they weren’t patient.

Peregrine opened the door to a rather stout man of advanced years. He had a prosperous set of whiskers, grey and trimmed to perfection, and, in sharp contrast to his years, wore a suit cut in that season’s style. His clothes were tailored with unmistakeable quality. His eyes roved past Peregrine to his studio. “Mr. Fogg, the artist, I presume?”

Peregrine agreed that was so.

“The name’s Tarr. I’d like to see your work.”

Mary advanced towards the door. Her hat was pinned firmly into place, and there was no sign that she’d been crying at all. She was every inch the assured lady of leisure. “I must be off, Mr. Fogg. I can’t tell you how happy I am with my pictures. You’ll have them sent around to Latimer square? Thank you.” She swept out of the room with poise.

Tarr drew back as she passed, his eyes resting on her with frank interest. Mary’s mention of her address had reached its target. The man had sized up her wealth, turning back to Peregrine with new appreciation.

Cousins! Peregrine ushered the gentleman into the room Mary had just vacated. “Please, come in.” He began to gather up the tea things. “Can I offer you—”

Tarr waved aside Peregrine’s offer of refreshment. “Don’t bother. I’m here to see your work, not take afternoon tea.” He strolled the length of the studio, looking at the paintings on the wall.

Peregrine straightened. He felt himself at a loss. Although dressed as a gentleman, the man before him was abrupt in manner and there was a coarseness to his speech that indicated a self-made man. This was a class that Peregrine had very little dealings with. “If I can be of assistance?”

The man turned to him. He was short and stout, but there any resemblance to the little teapot ended. “I’ll be blunt. I want my portrait painted and I’ve heard you’re the man to do it.”

Peregrine raised his eyebrows. To go that quickly into business indicated a man of commerce rather than leisure—definitely not a gentleman. “I’m flattered, Mr. Tarr.”

“I want to see the goods. Show me what you’ve got.”

Peregrine went through the canvases stacked against the walls, displaying his collection of portraits.

Tarr studied them all with a frown. “They’re good,” he said, almost reluctantly. “But what I want is something big. Something that you could hang in a hall. Just shy of life-size.”

“The sort of portrait you see in a stately home?” Peregrine blinked.

Tarr gave him a sharp grin. “Exactly. What I’m after is an heirloom.” He thumped his stick against the floor in emphasis. “My son’s about to get married. It got me thinking about future generations of Tarrs. I want to leave more than an inheritance. I want to leave a legacy. You see what I’m saying?”

Peregrine nodded cautiously. “A portrait will be handed down, generation to generation.”

“Reminding them that they can be proud to be a Tarr.” The man tugged the end of his ample moustaches. “I not ashamed to say that I was born the son of an honest labourer and that I made my fortune in trade. But I want something better for my sons and grandsons. I mean to make the world sit up and take notice of us.”

“An admirable objective.”

“I live at Mountford Hall. It’s a grand house. Big enough for generations of Tarr’s to occupy. I mean to make it our family hold. And you’re going to help with that. Think you’re up to the task?”

Peregrine considered the man in front of him. Tarr was vigorous—perhaps the most vigorous man of his years that Peregrine had ever met. The man’s bold rejection of social niceties, rather than repelling, had a curiously attractive quality. He was a man full of contradictions—contradictions that Peregrine itched to explore through canvas and paint. And yet he hesitated. “A portrait of the type you describe … It will be a lengthy undertaking.”

“I’ll see that you’re recompensed for time and effort,” Tarr said. “You’ll paint it at the Hall, of course. I can’t come in to London every time you need a sitting.”

Peregrine swallowed. “And while I was at the Hall—”

“You’d be a member of the household,” Tarr said. “We’d put you up, see that you had regular meals, all the tools you needed. Money is no object for me.”

Peregrine seized his courage. “What sum did you have in mind for your commission?”

Tarr named it.

Peregrine felt dizzy. It was the answer to prayer—but it came at a price he wasn’t expecting. “There’s no alternative to my leaving London?”

“None,” Tarr said. “My business concerns are in Basingstoke. I can’t put them aside to run up to London for more than a few days.” He gave Peregrine a hard look, that lingered on the scarcity of furnishings of the studio. “My terms are generous enough to compensate for any inconveniences, and I’d cover the cost of your travel.”

“Your terms are very generous,” Peregrine agreed. “And your starting date?”

“As soon as you can get to Basingstoke.” Tarr rest both of his hands on his walking stick. “Once know what I want, I don’t wait around for it to come to me. I go and get it.”

Peregrine had the distinct suspicion that Tarr was accustomed to getting what he wanted. “I’ll have to consider your offer.”

Tarr nodded. “Don’t take too long. I return to Basingstoke tomorrow. Send word of your decision to the George by seven tomorrow morning.”

Definitely not a gentleman. Most men of that class preferred to deny the very existence of seven o clock, only appearing at eight for breakfast, and only then under protest. “I understand. Thank you, Mr. Tarr.”

The man gave Peregrine a curt nod of dismissal. “I expect your prompt reply.” He’d clearly made up his mind that Peregrine would accept—and until the door shut behind Tarr, Peregrine agreed.

The studio seemed even smaller without Tarr’s larger than life persona filling it. Peregrine sank into the chair Mary had vacated to think. He reached mechanically for the last of the tea.

A portrait painted on commission—and shown to all visitors. Tarr was not likely to be shy about his acquisition. Other portraits would follow. Peregrine would have a name—

A name as a painter of society portraits. He clutched the cup of tea. He wanted more.

A fellow has to start somewhere. He could live on portraits, all the while building his reputation. Plenty of artists did. The only ones who scorned the business of making money were those without the talent to do it themselves. No, it wasn’t the portraits that bothered Peregrine. It was Tarr’s manner.

He talked to me as if I was a servant—no, a shopkeeper. Deliver the goods at this time for this price. Peregrine pinched the bridge of his nose. He didn’t think he was a snob, but Tarr’s attitude had rankled. Mary’s right. I am proud—too proud?

It wasn’t Tarr’s offer that worried him. Being taken on his own terms as an artist—it was flattering in a way. Peregrine wondered who had recommended him to Tarr, then shook his head. He couldn’t imagine anyone in his circle being acquaintances with the man. That’s what worries me, isn’t it? His society. If Peregrine accepted the commission, it wouldn’t be as a gentleman. It would be as an employee.

Did an artist fall into the same grey area as tutors, secretaries and governesses? Or would he be more along the lines of a superior sort of craftsman? Peregrine took a quick gulp of tea and set down his cup. He was out of his league. There was only one thing for it—to consult an expert.

 

4 comments

    1. Thank you! I think we’re going to have a really interesting catch up in February, because our last year has been pretty similar (I put out 5 books and made roughly the same amount of income from them), and I think we’re both working towards a similar end goal.

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