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Newsletter May 2017



My apologies to all for being a bit quiet this year.

The sad fact is, my father, Peter, had a bad fall early in the year, and although he remained determined to evade the Grim Reaper's scythe, he caught an infection and slipped away in March.

It isn't surprising that his death was painful to us, his family - but I admit, I hadn't expected to be affected for quite so long. He was over 96 years old, after all.But he would be glad to know that his departure had an impact. He wouldn't want to go without anyone noticing. Still, it did knock me back for a couple of months. It is very hard to be creative when you lose someone to whom you are close, and I found it difficult to return to work, and especially hard to be upbeat about things.

So, as I say, apologies for the radio silence. Hopefully normal service is about to be resumed.

I will not say any more about this here, but if you want to find out more about my father - he did have an interesting life - you can read more in my Writerly Witterings blog.

                   

As I said, his death had a big impact on my writing, and I am horribly behind on several deadlines (apologies, editors).

A Murder Too Soon

Fortunately those very nice people at Severn House are a great deal more efficient than me. So when I was late on deadlines, they pulled out all the stops. The result is, that my latest book, the second in my 'Bloody Mary' series starring Jack Blackjack, is out on 31 May. It is called A Murder Too Soon, and it takes poor Jack up to a wild, dank palace to commit a murder.

Except it doesn't go to plan, naturally.

Princess Elizabeth has been held captive and installed in Woodstock Palace (yes, there was one) while the conspirators involved in the Wyatt Rebellion are tortured. Queen Mary is convinced that Elizabeth had a hand in plotting the rebellion, and she demands proof. She has Elizabeth held under lock and key, and will act immediately if any confessions can be wrung, pressed, burned or broken from the poor devils she is having questioned.

However, although Princess Elizabeth is shrewd, intelligent and perceptive, there is a danger: one of her favourite ladies-in-waiting has been removed, and in her place a new lady has been installed. It is clear she is intended to spy on the Princess. So Master Blount orders Jack to go to Woodstock and remove her.

While Jack has no ambition to murder the woman, the summons does come at an opportune time. He is being hunted by the husband of a woman with whom Jack has become closely acquainted, and Jack is nothing loath to leave the City for a while.

But of course, Jack being Jack, the whole matter does not go as steadily as he would wish.

The book will be available very soon, but the print run is short, so do order before publication if you would like a copy. They will be in short supply!

                   

It was great fun to write ... less fun to edit, and a pain to reedit! But that's the way I work. I love the first thrill of a new story. I love the way the story bubbles from ... well, somewhere, and then fizzes onto the page. It's a strange, but happy miracle.

Stories sometimes appear almost fully formed in my head. They can be sparked by something I read or hear, or an idea will come from research. I'm now completing one book that will be out in January, which is formed of much of my researches into the Knights Templar and the First Crusade, the People's Crusade as it has been called.

In the Vintener series I wrote about a group of archers on their way to Crécy, at Calais, and back to France and Poitiers. In the Crusader series I am writing more about a family; two brothers who set off full of pious zeal (on the part of one) and the urge for adventure (both). The book traces their journey and tells of the hideous dangers the poor Christians faced on their march across Europe to Constantinople and into the Middle East. It's pulled together very well as a story, but wow! It's been difficult to cut the adventures down to make this section of the story coherent. When trying to track four armies, and make sure that the timeline of events is correct, the poor author gets regular headaches every time he picks up a new research book!

As an example, for some time I was working on a subplot in my Templar series that revolved around the wedding date of the French King. Personally, although I would understand not having precise records instantly available on the date of the marriage of Joe Farmer in the early 1300s, I would have expected a little more detail and precision when it came to the wedding date of the King of France. Call me old-fashioned, but I thought the Church, the French archives, perhaps even the English King's archives (his wife was a French Princess, and she was invited to go) would have more than a passing mention.

However, if you search on the internet, look through as many books as you like, you will be presented with a number of dates. I picked one based on a world-renowned historian (no, I won't say who so don't bother asking!) and chose the date in his/her book. I thought that was safe.

Then my friend Ian Mortimer became involved. I learned I was two years out. And had the wrong month. And date.

Luckily, I was still to write about the marriage. So I think the final book got the date right.

Obviously the best thing to do is to write modern day action thrillers. Except I started out doing that... my first book The Sniper was all about a modern-day terrorist. It was good, too. A publisher took it up and phoned to make an offer within the week. Then wrote a couple of days later to reject it - not because of them changing their mind about the quality of the writing, no: the book was all about the IRA, and they had just agreed their first ceasefire!

That was why I began to write medieval.

                   

Motives for Murder

Thanks for reading this far, and since you have, I must mention another book I've had a part in: Motives for Murder from Sphere, edited by Martin Edwards.

This is a collection of short stories written by members of the Detection Club. All the tales are pleasantly different, written to help celebrate the 80th birthday of our friend Peter Lovesey. We were all quite pleased with the book itself, but became even more delighted last Friday when we heard that four of the stories from the book have been included in the short list of the Crime Writers' Association Short Story Dagger for the best short story of the year. It was wonderful to see that of seven short stories, four come from our book - and I am very proud that my own, Alive or Dead, is included on the short list.

I am in the process of finishing up the Crusader book. Then I'll be cracking on straightaway with a new book with Baldwin and Simon, using my Visconti pen, and then it's going to be on with another new title. I have a lot of work to do this year.

But it's not all about work. As regular followers of my newsletters will know, sadly last year we lost our lovely Rhodesian Ridgeback. She's hugely missed: a wonderful companion, guard, and great friend. So, since replacing her would cost a fortune, I decided to look at other options.

I discovered the Rhodesian Ridgeback Welfare Trust - it's a charity based near Oxford - and got in touch late last year. This year, shortly after my father's death, I was called and soon had collected a beautiful, bouncing Ridgie of two years old. She was absolutely gorgeous, affectionate and gentle (unless playing, at which time she could get particularly daft and clumsy). Sadly, though, she had been mistreated, I think. She was very scared when I picked up my walking stick, and if I moved my hand too quickly, she would cower away. It was horrible to see such a lovely animal so terrified. Very sadly, we had to let her go back after a few weeks. It was enormously painful, because she was wonderful with my family, but she was not good with children, and we didn't feel we could take the risk of one of our neighbours' children getting bitten.

Rhodesian Ridgeback

It was strangely hard to take her back. I suppose partly it was that I loved her, but also there was a part of me that knew it was saying goodbye to my father (he was always very keen on his Ridgebacks, and finding her just after his death seemed to keep his memory alive, I guess). For whatever the reason, I've not experienced such distress as I did on that long drive to Oxford to deliver her back. I am enormously grateful to the Welfare Trust for letting me take her, but then for being so understanding when I started bawling as I handed her back - incidentally, she was fine about it. As soon as she saw the kennel maid, she jumped up, paws on the woman's shoulders, and gave her several kisses. When the maid took the leash, the Ridgie went with her very happily. It would have been horrible if she'd not gone back willingly.

Anyway, without getting any more maudlin, the point of the story is, that there are plenty of very good dogs out there who need new owners badly. Some are young, some are old. Many are good, untroubled dogs whose only problem is a family that is splitting up, or leaving the country, or whose owner has died unexpectedly. They deserve a second chance.

If you can, do please consider supporting the RRWT. They are a charity, and every pound, I know, goes to help the welfare of the hounds they take in.

I will be going back. However, I'm also going to save up for a pup. There will be pictures!

And now it's time for me to sign off. I have a lot coming up, with events (check my events page) and books to write. I might even try my hand at some more short stories! Meanwhile I also have a hideously busy summer of Morris dancing: Royal Cornwall Show, Okehampton Show, Chagford Show, Tiverton Medieval Fair, and many others. It will be tiring!

Wish me luck - I have a feeling I will need it - and have a great summer!
Michael Jecks

North Dartmoor
May 2017




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