Out for a walk this morning, and the weather was cool and crisp, but dry. So the camera came too. While the lower levels round our way are almost free of snow and ice, it was amazing to see what a few feet in height could do. Cawsand was covered in a thin layer, as you can see.
Looking forward to a day’s walk next Monday with the Rector of Crediton. Haven’t had a walk with Nigel for a long time, so looking forward to that!
No, not terribly busy, but there’s a bit going on. Compiling an anthology of short stories, preparing for a longish walk, setting out the synopses for the next two books, and then talks and other projects come into play.
I’ve been very remiss on these pages recently, mostly because I’ve not found time to work on these pages as often as I’d like. However, from this year I have decided to have this as a dedicated photoblog with all those pictures that aren’t suitable anywhere else! That being so, here’s a pic of my difficult life now. Lighting a fire with firestick and steel isn’t as easy as it might seem!
And so another epic bike ride ends. Epic? Well, maybe not. But it was a very good one.
Saturday the North Devon Downhill Cycling Club set off from deepest Devon to make our way to the smoke. Two hundred miles along quiet roads to London, so that we could take part in the annual London to Brighton ride in aid of charity.
Two of us had done it before. A few years ago, Mark Bazeley, the madly magnificent melodeon player from Dartmoor Pixie Band persuaded me (against my better judgement) to join him. And, I have to say, I had a great time. So much so, that when he asked me again this year, I agreed with alacrity. And then set about persuading some other long-suffering friends to join us.
Thus it was that five of us jumped into the Frangle bus on Saturday night. Mad Mark, Franglepop, Del Boy, the Bagman and me. Two bikes rested inside the van, three were hooked on the back, and being five sensible, careful fellows, the drive went without major mishap. Not, however, without ribaldry and a fair number of insults! We reached the prestigious and salubrious hotel (Travelodge, Battersea) and devanned moderately late.
What a joyful arrival that was. Three rooms for us all to share, all defined as “family” rooms, which meant that for our extra few quid, each room was set up with two separate beds. In theory.
Personally, I was happy with the thought of sharing a bed and saving the cost of a third room, but my middle aged companions viewed this concept with more than mild panic. Something to do with potentially wandering hands at night, or something. Which is why, when they saw that Travelodge in their wisdom (yeah, wrong word there) had forgotten to set up the spare beds, and that was a double bed to be shared in each room, there was some terror in the eyes of the poor darlings. A visit to the reception desk helped. We were allowed one spare sheet per room, and the chance of making our own beds, one sheet to put on the sofa … One duvet to share between the two beds? For that were paying over a hundred quid a room? Never again, Travelodge. Never again.
Still, we managed to sleep. A bit. I will pass over the whistling, the rasping and the other sounds emanating from the other side of the room. And the other, still worse ones. Suffice it to say, my unnamed companion proved that his ability to sleep was undiminished by sounds of sirens, cars and (later) birdsong.
I was glad he slept so well. Really I was.
Up early, we prepared ourselves for the ride. Bikes all there? Check. Slab of cold smoked meat for my breakfast? Yup. Bowl of cereal for Bazley? Gone. Onto the bikes, and off we went.
For the LtoB, there is a certain amount of paperwork. Tickets to catch a bus back fro Brighton to the start, a ticket for the bike for the same journey, a card that must be stamped at the start and end of the ride, and a ruddy great lump of paper with the rider number on one side, and little details on the reverse, mainly covering next of kin and such delights, which must be pinned to the shirt.
And it is necessary. Both times I’ve done the ride, there have been ambulances picking up wreckage. Men being carted off on stretchers, men with backs and necks in braces, claret everywhere. Usually it’s at the bottom of steep hills in the last quarter of the ride. There were two bad ones I saw this year. Hopefully both are ok now. I hope so.
Anyway, we cycled the three or so miles to the start and waited for the off. The beginning is always staggered (with 27,000 entries, it has to be), and we were off soon after 08:30. People everywhere. Although the roads were more or less clear of cars, there was no view ahead whatsoever. So we pedalled gently, taking it easy in the crush. But we couldn’t avoid mishaps.
Along the first sections, all the bollards in the middle of the roads had a large stick with a warning notice nailed to it. I didn’t understand why at first. Surely anyone would see those large bollards? But, no. About three miles into the ride, I saw one of them lying in the road.
‘Someone had a good night, last night,’ I chuckled merrily and lightly to my companion, and then saw a familiar figure alongside it. When I had assumed a car had hit the thing the night before, in fact it was my mate the Bag Carrier, who had been pedalling happily with an apparent wall of bikes before him, only to find the masses parting like the seas before the Israelites, to reveal this flaming hazard. And it had no pole and sign to warn him.
It wasn’t life threatening, but even a slow speed knock like that jolts you, and we had to pause a while for him to take some essential nutrition on board, a Mars bar, and collect himself before we could carry on.
Off we toddled, towards the south. Past Mitcham and Banstead, up How Lane into Chipstead, where I was raised, and where we had our first break. Very nice, it was too. I had a nutritious bar and a cup of tea. Bazley had a huge bacon sarnie with a cuppa, then a sweet bar, then another cup. Why he stays so skinny, I’ll never know.
Off again, along the High Road, down to Bletchingly, and for the first time, had to debike and walk for a bit – just too many people on the road to be able to pedal.
Another fifteen miles or so to the next stop. There Bazley had the largest ice cream I’ve ever seen. And a cake. He wanted another bacon roll, but eventually decided against. I had a cup of tea. Another ten miles, and we stopped again. This time he had another bacon sarnie, while the others had some cake. I had a cup of tea.
You get the picture? This was a Bazle feasting party. Every time we stopped, he had to restock his belly. In the most shameful manner. While I had cups of tea. One doesn’t wish to be a glutton!
Mind you, that stopped at Ditchling Beacon. We had a shower or two in the lead up to it, and while it was cool, we were all warm enough after forty miles not to even think about putting on the wet weather gear. At the bottom were loads of people cheering us on, and three youngsters who stood in the road to touch hands with all the riders, a sort of gentle low five in encouragement. I was suspicious: seven miles before, two kids had appeared with enormous water cannons to drench the riders. I retrieved my water bottle and gave a battle cry in retaliation, and they bolted at the sight!
Still, I’ll pass over the climb itself. The Beacon is noted for its brutality. Not many riders can make it to the top. About a mile and a half of one of the steepest roads in the country, I think. But at the top, glorious views, and an ice-cream van or four. So, what do bikers do? We chatted, we laughed, we rested – and then we retrieved our sticks from the bikes, Bazle fetched his daughters’ toy melodeon, and we danced the Ockington four man stick dance. Silly? Possibly, but it also seemed to do our muscles some good. It certainly made mine feel much less tired.
From there it was an easy last seven miles into Brighton. Almost entirely downhill, I’m glad to say. We rattled down in good order, and soon reached the finish, where we danced the four man again.
That was about it. It was already getting on, so we went to queue for fish and chips, until we realised we weren’t far off the time for the last bus back. It would have been embarrassing to miss it, so we gave up on chips, and cycled off to the buses. Which is where I came nearest to crashing – purely lack of concentration on my part, I hasten to add. Apologies to the young lad I nearly met head on. The one with the very round eyes and wide mouth.
We got back to London at about half nine, and hung around for our bikes to be returned to us, and then it was about ten fifteen before we got back to the van and got the bikes stowed away. From there it was a lengthy drive. But we managed to break it halfway or so. Bazle needed a half chicken and chips at a service station.
And he’s still skinny.
That was last weekend. This Sunday, more lunatics will ride the Dartmoor challenge. It’s rather more serious than my little saunter (take a looksee at http://www.dartmoorclassic.co.uk/ ). The first ride is not far off the LtoB ride, but the difference is, between London and Brighton there is an embarrassing dearth of hills. Not so round Dartmoor. Here there are lots of hills, and none ‘minor’!
So, good luck to the challengers on Sunday.
Meantime, I have to tot up the total of the donations to the British Heart Foundation. I think I took in a fair few pounds. It’s a good charity, anyway, for a bunch of five middle-aged men to support! If anyone feels inclined to help the charity, please go to British Heart Foundation donations where you can add to my sponsorship.
And now: back to book 32!
Forgive any typos. This was typed on my iPad, and I am still not quite as accurate as I would like to be!
Well, when I said I would like photos, I was hoping to get a couple of photos back. As it was, there were loads! Sadly, too many to stick into a blog like this – not at the rate my computer uploads, anyway. So often the ruddy thing gets stuck at a slow speed!
Thanks to all of you who sent in pictures. There were some really good ones, especially those of my books in close proximity to writers I admire in bookshelves – I like yours, Susan Marsh, with mine next-door to Sharon Kay Penman, a writer I hugely admire.
But for the main theme, I guess I have to fall back on my own staples. Books and beer. What more joy can the world possess? Well, gin, I suppose, and whisky, but for now, I’ll go with Loren Bell’s photo.
Thanks to all for sending me your pictures. If you keep on doing so, I’ll work out another little prize – but the next one will be a little more unique, because it’ll be a copy of Litmus, in which I’ve a short story inspired by Professor Jim al-Khalili, about Einstein. It’s different, and the anthology should be very good from the look of the other authors involved in the project.
A special thanks also to Mary Burke, who sent me a picture of the heart-warming sort: a row of my books on a Borders’ shelf in Seattle. You see, that is the sort of thing an author needs: proof that somewhere his books are there ready to be sold!
And now I have to crack on with work.
Tonight I am dancing in support of Cogs and Wheels Morris, who are dancing for charity, raising money for cancer awareness. Their lovely Sallie Reason died very suddenly early this year at a ridiculously young age. She was a talented artist and illustrated lots of books. I had been hoping to work with her, but the cancer took her away too quickly. So I’ll be dancing, with Tinners’ Morris, at Sticklepath at half five, and then Okehampton at seven or so, just in case there’s a UK, Devon-based fan reading this today.
If you read this Saturday, of course, you’ll be too late! But then there are always new, upcoming events. If you are in the UK, or just want to see what’s happening, take a look at the Tinners’ Morris site at: http://groupspaces.com/tinners/ and you will see the full diary. In future there will be links with music and video too, hopefully.
So, the new book, KING’S GOLD is out, bringing my series to a round thirty titles. Quite a shock, really, to think I’ve written all those words!
In the UK you can buy signed copies from Goldsborough Books in London, and if you’re US-based, you should be able to get them from Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona. However, if you really want an individual copy with some free bookmarks thrown in, you need to contact me. UK books are £20, US £30. Shocking price for the US, I know, but it’s dictated by the cost of packing and postage. Sorry about that.
There is a repeat of the lovely offer from Conway Stewart in that, so if you buy the book or go to http://www.simonandschuster.co.uk/sweepstakes/win-a-michael-jecks-pen-from-conway-stewart you can enter a competition to win one of my special Dartmoor pens. Alternatively, if you go to Simon & Schuster UK’s site, you can find a little blog post about the latest book, and soon on bookdagger.com you will find a link to a video interview with me. In a week or so, that will be moved to the Simon & Schuster site as well.
And so back to work. Currently I’m researching the Templars, the German Order and the Leper Knights at the time of the siege of Acre. All good fun. Meanwhile, there is the work on shorts stories and modern books going on apace. Hopefully more news of them before too long.
All best to you, and do keep on commenting via the website and Facebook.
No. Not a party.
It was four years ago I last did something for charity.
There was a time when I’d regularly help out with raising money or other things. I did five years as secretary to a local club, then five more as secretary to a local fireworks event, and in the meantime I tried to help good organisations. Now, though, time is so restricted, that it’s hard to find time to do anything.
So, this year I decided I’d do the London to Brighton cycle ride again.
I can get really grumpy with some charitable events. There are so many of those “I am walking around Machu Picchu, please help” which to me seems more like paying for someone else’s holiday.
After all, if I’m sponsoring someone to do a swim, cycle, or walk, I want to know that almost all my money is going straight to the charities concerned, and not paying for the airfare and hotels for the participant.
And yes, when it comes to London to Brighton, all the admin costs and the petrol to get there etc is paid for by the participants. It’s going to be pretty expensive. Still, it’s good to see that there are so many who’re keen to be involved.
The books opened for registrations on one Saturday in March. Within twelve hours all 27,000 places were filled. Yes, 27,000. That is a lot of people wanting to . . . well, mainly to have a good day out, achieve something for themselves in terms of long-distance cycling, and get involved with like-minded cyclists.
There are some, inevitably, who are a pain to have, of course. There are the drunks, the dim, the incompetent, the vague and the astonishingly dangerous. I saw two ambulances stretchering off injured folks last time. Quite a lot more injuries in fact than I saw in thirty years of pistol shooting. Well, hardly surprising. Shooters were much more carefully regulated. Anyone can go to a shop and buy a bike without proof of age or competence.
Some people shouldn’t be allowed to. I saw some morons riding down a steep slope into Brighton at full speed. I went pretty quickly too, but not so fast I couldn’t see what the road was doing. Blind bends and speed to me equal potential pain. I don’t like the sight of blood. Not when it’s mine.
So I hope that this year I will be fortunate and avoid seeing any more idiots on the roads. Well, any other than those I’ll be riding with!
And now, to the ebay advert of the week. My favourite has to be this: http://i.imgur.com/xLEHE.png
Just read the advert carefully where the arrows point. And then go back and look at the part that tells how much has already been bid for this astonishing advert.
There truly are more twits born every minute than you could shake a stick at!
Take care, folks.
Oh, and if you want to contribute, go and donate your ill-gotten gains at http://t.co/2CMZ5wE
There are times when writing is a breeze.
You sit at the desk and ideas come every second, or so it seems, and other times when new concepts flow like mud. Generally I think the muddiest times are the beginning and end of a novel, while the buzzing period is invariably the mid-point. That’s the time when the book is full of potential. You have all the characters fleshed out, their motives, their points of reference and interest, and they start to take over with a lot of extra action and developments I would never have thought of at the outset. It’s fun in the middle.
But the beginning and end . . . Hmm.
At the beginning it’s less problematic, of course. Any issues can be sorted later – at the end.
That’s where I am now. Editing and checking all the links, all the red herrings, all the tweaks I added on a rainy Sunday afternoon – they’ve all come back to bite me in the arse. That’s how it feels usually, anyway.
The last few pages are hardest of all, to be fair. Because you want the book to work to a logical, consistent ending that doesn’t jar the reader. I always think of it like a dagger-point, with all the strands coming together at the tip. This one, thank goodness, is working well to that end. so far. There’s still time for it to go way off course!
But it’s so slow, because it feels always that almost every sentence has to be validated with an earlier statement or scene, making sure who said what and when and to whom. It’s the part I find most difficult.
Luckily it’s also enormously rewarding. And rather good fun on this book. I think I’m going to end up feeling very smug about book 31!
More smug than earlier this morning, no doubt. I had a great feeling of happiness having decided which new mobile phone I should go to, after a lengthy conversation with a helpful Orange operator, who persuaded me away from my first choice after looking at my actual usage, and saved me a lot of money. That was great, but my initial joy was offset by the sight of my Bernese Mountain Dog. She had taken advantage of my chat to go and find something particularly revolting and roll in it. Back home to a cold shower for her.
But all in all a good enough morning. Tonight I should finish the main work on the book, and then it’s down to final tidying. A happy time.
If the dog doesn’t roll again tomorrow!
Last week I went out. It was nice to be allowed out for an evening. This week, I’ll be out again. Both events courtesy of libraries. As a writer, it’s nice to be allowed out occasionally.
Last week’s visit to Tavistock was great. It was a good event, in a packed town hall, which had been paid for by the enormously kind, generous and supportive “Friends” of the library. The Mayor was there, and a councillor, and I couldn’t count all the authors. As well as my friend Bernard Knight, there were Maureen Duffy, Lilian Harry, EV Thompson, and a number of others.
You want to see pictures? It’s called Celebrating History. Look here:
(I have had problems with the link, but if you click on the second set of photos from the left, you’ll be taken to the right page. There is a glitch somewhere, but I think it’s the way the set is created)
A good audience, friends to speak to, enthusiastic supporters of writing – and I came away with a real sour taste in my mouth. Nothing to do with the gig, it was what I had heard during the afternoon on the radio.
A year ago, maybe more, I was invited to chat on the radio. I was asked whether I thought library visitors should pay for the services they used. I thought about it, and, bearing in mind the dreadful state of British finances, I reckoned yes, perhaps a minimal fee for those who could afford it of some 15 pennies or so per loan would not break anyone’s bank. And, importantly, it would go a little way to supporting the Public Lending Right.
This is the system whereby it is agreed that authors who allow their books to be used in libraries are reimbursed. After all, authors are generally badly paid folks. Yes, honestly. The last I saw, three quarters of authors earned less than the national average wage, and two thirds less than the half that. Half earned less than ten thousand a year. Authors are not well paid.
The PLR is a brilliant scheme that pays authors six pence and a bit per loan. It’s not a huge sum of money. And it’s a way of reimbursing authors for their work in writing a book in the first place.
Now, I know some people will begrudge paying anything for reading a book. Just as there are some thieves who enjoy watching films for free by stealing – sorry – downloading them from illegal sites, and there are listeners who steal – no, actually I’m not sorry at all – the work of musicians, so there are also thieves who want to steal my work and the work of other writers.
So, why does it make me and other authors angry? Like others, I have a house and a mortgage. I have a family, dogs, and all the other little trinkets most people want. I like to be able to pay my TV licence, and put petrol in my car. And eat. To do these, I work – usually from sixty to eighty hours a week, for most of the weeks of the year – and the result of my work is a book or two a year. I think it’s sort of fair that after my efforts, if someone likes my work, I ought to be paid for it in some way. Sometimes it’ll mean earning pennies because I am paid a percentage of the price of the book (royalties) and other times it’ll mean I get money for all those library loans.
I am not a charity. I don’t write for fun. I write as a living.
Some people think authors are automatically millionaires as soon as the first book is published. Ha ruddy ha. Even the PLR is capped. An author can only earn a maximum of some six and a half thousand. Nice money, if you get it – but if your total other earnings are less than ten thousand, it only boosts your income to borderline hardship.
I made this suggestion, then, that libraries should start asking for money. Not from pensioners, not from kids, but from the gainfully employed the libraries could have asked for some fifteen pence without trouble.
At the same time, I asked why computers were being installed. I know people like to use email – but why on earth should anyone think that they should be entitled to free use of a computer for emails? The libraries never used to issue free postage stamps in the heyday of the library services. Computers are invariably out of date before they’re installed, and if you want a library as a repository for information, computers tend to be bad sources. They have access to webpages which could be written by a professional – by a professor, even – but how do you tell that it wasn’t put up in a bored moment by a pimply youth from Middle Wallop?
Books: encyclopaedias, dictionaries, all kinds of research material, are tested. They are checked by an author, if he or she is reputable. Then they’re checked by an editor. Then by a copyeditor. Sometimes by fact checkers, and certainly by proofreaders. All these people are there just to ensure that what you see on the page is accurate.
How many websites go through such a rigorous process to ensure that facts are correct?
So, I would always contend that a book is a safer medium for a library to hold. It takes less space, it is reliable technology that is still, I reckon, not out of date, and it is accurate.
Right, rant over.
But only so I can get on to the big one.
Why was I bitter and twisted last week? Because I had heard this.
Now some people may not know Will Self. He is an intelligent man, usually. But in this chat, which was intended to explain his support for libraries, he said that he did not go, never used his local library (except to pick up audio books for his daughter). He said libraries never invited him (that’s probably because since he’s regularly on TV shows, libraries know damn well they cannot afford his appearance fee). He said libraries were supported by “middle brow writers” like Philip Pullman, Jacquie Wilson because they made “a considerable amount” from their library loans.
So, he dismissed two millionaire authors, who are amongst the most successful UK authors (it sounds terribly like bitter jealousy on the part of Self here). Many authors like them don’t bother to claim their PLR, and I’d be interested whether Will does himself. Still, that has nothing to do with it. There are many other authors, like me, who depend on the few thousand pounds we receive from PLR every year. It was crucial to me when I was earning three thousand a year as a new writer. It is plain dumb for him to suggest that PLR is only for wealthy authors. Sorry, “Top borrowed authors” making “a considerable income”. Can you hear me spitting tacks?
And then, he went on in a mean-mouthed way to insult librarians. He called them people with “a jobsworth mentality”.
Words fail me. But I can only assume that Will Self has no interest in libraries whatsoever. Instead of talking in support of them, he denigrated the buildings and their use, then went on to deliberately slight a group of people who will never earn the sort of money he has. It was mean-spirited in the extreme.
I was enormously disappointed. Still, it’s given me the added incentive to do what I can to support libraries.