It seems as though every year I have to begin with an apology, and this one's no exception.
You know how it is. You begin each fresh January full of the best of intentions, determined to make certain resolutions and keep them. Last year I was determined that I was going to go out every month and take loads of photos, ready to have them printed into a calendar.
I was going to walk out on the moors more often; I was going to write more regular blog-pieces; I was going to make a determined effort to keep in touch with readers by these newsletters, to work on my readership on Goodreads, I was going to go to more speaking events...
Well, you know how it is.
The year has been a pretty abysmal one on many different levels. It started out with the oil man coming to deliver our central heating oil, and refusing, because the oil tank had sprung a leak. The new tank soaked up all our savings. How a lump of hollow plastic can cost nearly £2,000 is beyond me!
From that, it went downhill, with a number of minor catastrophes. Our attempt at a decent holiday was blown off course (if you see what I mean) when the country was hit by a terrible set of winds that almost blew our tent down two days into the holiday. I had been going to sit it out and stay at the campsite, when I managed to get a Facebook link on my phone and spoke to Tom B in Florida, who informed me that the 75 mph winds gusting at my tent were actually "hurricane force".
That gave me an incentive. We packed up and went home.
The next attempt on a holiday was fun. However, there was a slight irritation when we discovered our tent had a leak. Very odd, we thought (short-term memory loss in adults of our age isn't a surprise). And then I found the 1½ inch tear and remembered the earlier holiday.
All summer, so it seems, it has rained. I've been on the moors astonishingly rarely. There hasn't been time - but when there is time, walking in heavy rain is not ideal. It's less than relaxing, and can be dangerous on the moors.
I was really looking forward to the Kelmarsh Festival and made my way to it with my family in tow. Only to learn on the morning that the rains had made the local river burst its banks. The entire campsite was flooded, and the festival cancelled, sadly.
And then, very sadly, our lovely old Bernese Mountain Dog, Dori, died suddenly in late October.
Still, it's not all been disaster and misery, thank God. There have been good news moments.
As you will all have heard by now, hopefully, I have launched my first collections of short stories. The first, For the Love of Old Bones, came out as an ebook on Kindle in the summer, and I was delighted and surprised by the sales. In fact I was so delighted, I immediately began work on a second collection, this time of all my other stories. No One Can Hear You Scream came out in the autumn, and was again well received by those who use modern technology for their reading.
In the summer, my latest Baldwin/Puttock book was published by those lovely folk at Simon & Schuster. This, City of Fiends, has been very popular, and as a result of this and my other Simon & Schuster books, I am now one of their top-selling ebook authors. Luckily, there are still hardback versions for people who like the best reading technology: paper!
Speaking of which, the paperback of City of Fiends will be out in January.
And soon afterwards, life will grow more hectic.
You see, after a lot of discussion, Simon & Schuster have bought the rights to the first thirteen books. All of these will be ready as ebooks before Christmas - that means all the titles from The Last Templar to The Devil's Acolyte. The covers are done in the new style, so that they follow on from The Oath, King's Gold, City of Fiends and Templar's Acre. When they start to decorate the bookshelves, I think they'll reach a whole new audience.
This all means next year will be busy: Templar's Acre will be published in the summer (place your orders now, please), and with that, there will be paperback editions of the first thirteen books too, the fresh titles being published every month.
Templar's Acre itself was a wonderful experience. It was one of those books that just flowed. I've cogitated over the last days of Acre so often since starting to write about Baldwin, that the period and the atmosphere is as familiar to me as the street outside my house. It's been wonderful to sit down and write the story. It actually feels as though I've been planning the book for years. Perhaps I have, subconsciously.
One book I have definitely been planning for a long time is Act of Vengeance. This story came to me after travelling to Alaska some five years ago. I was participating in a series of panels with the Bouchercon festival, but I managed to take a trip or two outside Anchorage, and the country just filled me with joy. It's fabulous, full of wildlife, and an absolute delight to visit. I hope one day to be able to return, and perhaps go fishing or just hiking through the woods.
But what really grabbed me was the sight of the little town of Whittier. There is a derelict building there, the "Buckner", which is a cold-war relic. Once it was named the "town in a building", because it was literally full of men - it was the main army barracks. It had a huge cinema, cafeteria, a hospital, everything. And now, because of asbestos, it lies on the outskirts of Whittier, gradually decaying.
I was really taken with the town and that building, and they led me directly to a new story: Act of Vengeance.
This came about because of the UK's Secret Services. After the Cold War, they were scaled down dramatically, and many agents were dropped. But after 9/11, a frantic recruitment drive was launched to get more agents. But with new equal opportunities rules, and too many recruits for the hapless Human Resources teams, many foolish, callow, or criminal agents were brought in. As a result many missions failed, sometimes catastrophically. And so the Security Services created a new group: the "Scavengers" to tidy up the mess when agents failed and their schemes went wrong. My book is about one of the Scavengers: a kind of Jason Bourne meets Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy story.
Lee Child has read it and hugely kindly said it was "An instant classic British spy novel - mature, thoughtful, and intelligent ... but also raw enough for our modern times. Highly recommended."
At present Act of Vengeance is ebook only (on Kindle from Amazon UK and Amazon.com), but with luck (and sales) it may be published as a real book before too long. Still, if you were wondering about presents for other people, I hope I have given you some ideas now!
As usual, I do have my eyes on a number of alternative ventures. I am working on a concept for a TV documentary, I'm working on a ghost-writing project with a guy whose parents had a truly extraordinary life, and I'm now a Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund.
This means going in to Exeter University twice a week and helping students with their essay writing. It's the only one-to-one tuition that students receive free of charge, and so far I've been getting good feedback from the students, so I hope this will continue for a while. It's been great fun so far, and very useful in terms of getting me out of my office and giving me a fresh outlook on scenes and people.
So, there you are. 2012 has brought some brilliant highs, with new books, collections of short stories, a modern thriller, and the wonderful thrill of the backlist finally being reissued. On the other hand, I'm afraid it's the year I will remember forever as being the wettest summer, the worst winter (my brother and I were the closest we've ever come to danger on the moors during a blizzard last January), and the year in which my poor old Dori died.
2013 will be better, with luck. My editor is already telling me that it will "be the year of the Jecks".
I hope that your 2012 was happier, and that you will have a more successful and fun-filled year in 2013. Hopefully with plenty of time to enjoy new Jecks books you have never tried before!
All best wishes