Can it really be time for another Christmas letter so soon? This year has flown past. Not that it's been an entirely pleasant year.
My year began with working flat-out on one book while planning a second and discussing a third. All are now written, although the task of writing was not helped when my computer developed a slight fault. I had to recover my data from my back-up disk, which is when I learned that the back-up itself was corrupt, and all my data had been wiped. Luckily most of my photos and old books were held on CDs, DVDs and remotely, but a lot was lost, and what with resetting passwords and things, it cost me three weeks before I could get back to work. Then I had to go through the whole process again two months later when my old computer suffered a catastrophic failure and I had to buy a new machine. All in all I lost a good two months of work due to failures, and that meant no holiday.
This year has been tough on a number of levels. Sadly my mother died in October. She had been suffering for a while, and went into hospital in September for a routine minor operation, when she acquired an infection. Weakened already, that was the last straw. She is hugely missed, but it has to be said that the wake was a marvellous celebration of her life, and the family is enormously grateful to all those who came to remember her with us.
My problems with the computer have given me the incentive to work harder and more effectively. Many years ago, when I first met Laurence Block, he mentioned that he had reverted to a typewriter again and found it quite freeing. I am going a stage beyond that, and my next novel will be written using a pen and ink.
Yes, I am serious. I am finding now that Twitter, Facebook and emails form a distinct series of problems for me. As I get into the mindset of a medieval warlord (or thief), invariably there is another interruption that distracts me. It takes time to discard the interruption and get back into the point of view of my protagonist. So, my belief is that, if I work with pen and paper, I will have a more immersive experience while writing. It has worked for authors for most of the last few centuries: it'll probably work for me too!
As almost anyone who knows me will be aware, I am a keen user of fountain pens. I mentioned this idea of handwriting books to a few people and I was astonished by the result. First, Diamine Inks told me how delighted they were with the idea, and sent me one of all of their inks - one hundred and three different shades and colours, all told. I also spoke to Atoma, because I use their brilliant notebooks, and they gave me enough paper to write the whole novel. I am really looking forward to cracking on with this project with my Visconti fountain pen.
I was very sad last year to hear that Conway Stewart had closed up their doors for the last time. I have three C-S pens, and will continue to use them regularly because they have such a wonderful weight and balance. However, my Visconti Homo Sapiens is my pen of choice now for longer work. The nib is made of Palladium, and it's wonderful to write with. If you're interested in why I like the pen so much, you can see me talking about it in a review on YouTube.
YouTube has given me an interesting way to look at books and writing generally. Much of the hints and tips I put on there are about proofing, editing and writing, and include ideas I have developed or gleaned in twenty-two years of writing and helping other writers, so do please tell friends, and especially students at University if you know any. There are plenty of interviews with me talking about all my books, where they came from, what the motivation was for writing that one and so on, and I'll be talking a lot more about future projects in coming videos, too, and the process of writing. If you want to know more about the processes involved in publishing a novel, watch the video in which I talk to my editor about what happens to a manuscript when it is submitted to a publisher.
This year I was invited to go to the Swanwick Writers' Summer School. I've never been before, and it was a great experience, to meet with new writers and talk about writing and the process of creating stories. I had a wonderful day there, and I'm glad to say that I've been invited back next year to give an after-dinner talk and lectures.
I'm also writing regularly on my writerlywitterings.com blog. It tends to include brief comments on my week and what I have coming up, but I try to keep to a short note once a week on a Monday. If you want to keep on top of what I am doing, that is a good way. Failing that, you can look me up on Facebook or Twitter (@MichaelJecks), but while I'm writing, I won't be there! I have to put words down on paper for the books.
Talking about books, I realised this year that I'm one of the country's most prolific authors. With some forty books published, I have outwritten most of my contemporaries. The Templar series, thirty-two titles long, is the longest-running historical or murder series written by any living author. Next year the last in my Vintener trilogy, Blood of the Innocents, will be published by Simon and Schuster in June. Before that, Severn House will publish the first in a series of Elizabethan crime stories with Rebellion's Message. At the same time Act of Vengeance will hopefully be reissued by Endeavour Press, as will short story collections For the Love of Old Bones and No One Can Hear You Scream. I am keen to see them taken on by a publisher so that they, rather than I, can deal with the marketing and sales! It is astonishing how much time must be spent sitting at a shining screen to merely try to tell people that the book is out there. Far better that someone trained in marketing and publicity takes it over.
Having spoken about all the books that will come out next year, I suppose I ought to mention the ones that you can buy now!
If you haven't tried Blood on the Sand yet, now is a great time to get a copy. It is the second in my Vintener trilogy. The first, Fields of Glory, was all about the battle of Crécy and the two weeks that led up to it. I've always been fascinated by the way that men will bond and work together as a team, and Field is my take on this. It follows the trials, the highs and lows, of a small group of archers in the astonishing campaign that set the seal on the reputation of Edward III. The second in the series, Blood on the Sand looks at the remaining men from that campaign and what happened in the year following Crécy. There are sea and land battles, treachery, deceit and murder in what was a terrible year for France. I'm really proud of the story, which rattles along at a great pace, and which has accumulated a lot of positive reviews.
All the books I've written are still in print and available at your local bookshop - although some of the older ones may have to be ordered in, of course. If you want to help an author with his mortgage more directly, I have copies of Blood on the Sand left in my stock, as well as several Fields of Glory - not to mention the other titles. They are sitting in large boxes here beside my desk, desperate to find new homes with people who like my work. If you have any holes in your collection of Jecks titles, it is likely that I can help fill them. Please write to me at and I'll give you a price for the book signed and posted to you. Do let me know if it's to be a Christmas present so I can put in a suitable message, too.
Finally, and a piece of lovely news for us, we have adopted a gorgeous little Dalmatian. Our Ridgeback is a lovely girl, but my son has been desperate for years to have a dog that will chase sticks and balls and not look at you with a sneer for throwing away a perfectly good toy. "Get it yourself," seems to be the Ridgeback response to a boy lobbing a tennis ball. Some friends have had to move to an area where they know no one who could let their dog out at lunchtime, so they kindly allowed us to take her on. And she has fitted in wonderfully. I had never realised that when people talk of Dalmatians smiling, it was literally true. She bares her teeth and grins just like a human when she has missed us. A most endearing trait!
And having said all that, although it's a little early, I'd like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.
All best wishes, and I hope that 2016 turns out better than this year.