It gets me just how the time disappears - it seems like last week I was nagged into writing the last newsletter. But no, glancing at my website two days ago, I realised that since the last one ended wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, it may have been a little longer ago.
I do hope you had a good Christmas. Not, in other words, like ours.
The last day of school, both kids had to miss their obligatory parties because school had to be closed for snow. That, of course, is a cause of celebration for any child usually. Even my oldest, who used to cry when told that she was too unwell to go to school, and used to try to persuade us to let her in, she loved it so much (that's not something I tend to get from number 2), is normally very happy to forego such delights as arithmetic when there's snow.
Not this year. As soon as the snow landed, we were all struck down with a particularly virulent bug. We managed one half morning in the snow. That was it. No one could cope and had to stay indoors. Well, not me, since I'm a hunk, and someone had to walk the dogs, but both children did, and once Christmas was over, my wife had to spend a day or two in bed. We didn't recover as a family until almost New Year.
So, yes, I hope your Christmas was rather better than the one here in the Jecks household.
It was a great honour to work with Conway Stewart to design the Michael Jecks pen as the first in their Detection Collection range last year. Those of you who took part know that there was a prize competition for a free pen, which was a great idea, and I am enormously grateful to Conway Stewart for their generosity in providing one of them.
Now, it's possible you don't realise, but in fact that competition has closed. And I am delighted to say that the guy who won the pen is actually a reader of my books. If you entered the competition, I'm sorry you didn't get it, but there were about 2,000 entries, which I have to say impressed and pleased me.
In fact, it pleased me so much, I'm discussing with my publishers to see whether something similar can be done for the publication of King's Gold. Keep your ears open, and you may hear news on this before too long.
However, my congratulations to Terence Creed, who won the first Michael Jecks Pen! I hope he really enjoys using the pen, and that he enjoys the story that came with it!
Now, talking of competitions, because I'm incurably nosy and like to find out where my books are and what happens to them, I thought it could be funny to have another kind of competition.
Here's what I thought: a photo that includes one of my novels.
For the best picture each month, I will send a copy of one of my books (I'll liaise to make sure I'm not sending books you already have), but if you see a particular display of my books in a shop window, or on a bookshelf, snap it and email it to me. If it is in a bookshop, I'd also be glad to see if the shop would want me to go and sign books for them.
But it's not just for that. If you have a location you especially like, have someone take a photo of you reading there: in a library, in a coffee shop, in a piazza in Rome, in a wood or overlooking the sea - wherever you want. Or, it could be the saddest picture of the month. The most worn, tired, broken-spined/torn-off-covered book of mine you've found in a wastebin. I can always award prizes for sympathy!
If you like the idea, take a photo and send it on. I'll upload them to the photoblog, and the best ones will earn a signed Jecks. I will assign copyright to the pictures, so do please tell me if you don't want your name on them.
This is a fun competition - normal rules apply: you can't win if you don't enter, and any winner is based entirely on my own warped and subjective view. So don't expect fairness!
Since Christmas, I've been snowed under - pardon the pun.
It's the usual grind. First, there's the new book to write before the end of March - which could be a minor issue, but the book is turning out really well so far, and I have a feeling it's going to be one of my best.
I admit candidly that I do not tend to have favourites among my stories. It'd be like having favourites among my kids. And no, I don't. Still, there is usually something, I think, about each story that grabs me. It'd be a dull job if they didn't!
Mostly I think this reflects something in the way the story developed in my mind more than anything else. Mad Monk always appealed. So did Leper, Merchant's Partner, Crediton Killings, Dispensation of Death ... There's usually some sort of little hook that tweaks my interest, and usually I don't know what it is until I get into the story and see how the characters work together.
That's the way this one's gone. It's only thirty thousand words so far, and when edited it's going to be a damn sight shorter, but there's a couple of aspects I already really like. I'm moving back from the political sweep of history for a short foray back into Exeter, during a terrible period in the cathedral's history, and the atmosphere is very menacing.
I'm loving it!
However, there are other things to be doing as well, of course. Newsletter (hah!), twitter, facebook and talks all take their toll on my time.
And as soon as I start to get into the new book, invariably that is when my publisher thinks it'd be a good time to send me the old one for me to check the copyeditor's comments, or read the proofs, or answer some horrible question from a fact checker.
I don't mind distractions. I can create my own without difficulty, after all!
This year I've had another interruption to my thought processes. Late last year I was invited to join a new association, the Historical Writers' Association.
It is a new idea that was originally mooted by Manda Scott, the writer of the excellent Boudicca series, and it's really grabbed a lot of attention amongst my colleagues.
The thing is, there have been many associations for certain groups: the Crime Writers', the Romantic Novelists' and so on - but nothing for historical writers specifically. So we decided that there ought to be a new group which was designed to serve our own market, and particularly to look after all those writers who don't really fit into the other associations.
I used to be an enthusiastic member of the CWA, and I've also been a member of groups like the Historical Novel Association in my time, but the trouble with most of them is, they don't cater for writers of thrillers which are historical.
The CWA was always quite good at involving all genres, but in recent years it's grown to be much more for modern day authors. I've attended many festivals and sat on panels discussing all the ins and outs of my craft - and invariably the panels to which I'm invited are the very first ones on the Sunday morning, when there is rarely if ever an audience.
Other historical groups have the difficulty for me that they tend to be focussed much more on the romantic. This isn't a problem, but there are already the HNS and Romantic Novelists' Association for writers of that kind, and their prizes are concentrated much more towards romance than, say, crime thrillers.
So, it was with great delight that I accepted the proposal that I should help create the HWA with a view to promoting historical writing. I hope it will be a great success.
The first big event for the HWA will be with the English Heritage at Kelmarsh, where both will host a festival of historical writing. This should be a fantastic opportunity, because there are reenactors going to be there covering every period from the Dark Ages to WWII. I'm hoping to get up there, but sadly that weekend (16th/17th July) is a problem for me this year. Still, if you are interested in the idea, go and look at what English Heritage has to say about it and I hope you have fun if you do go!
Now to a silly one.
A few years ago, I raised some thousands of pounds for a worthwhile English charity, the British Heart Foundation. They work to try to help people who suffer heart attacks and raise awareness of the benefits of exercise and proper eating.
Now, bearing in mind I'm a bone idle author who likes the fact that it's easy work with lots of sitting, I guess this could be thought of as enlightened self-interest when I say I'm going to do the same thing again.
So, this summer I'll be entering the London to Brighton bike ride again. There will be a website up before too long for donations to be made. Don't feel forced. It's a day of fun for me, and a chance to get away from my desk. It's also good for me, because I'll be taking a few more rides on the bike to get myself in training. And I need to. So it's definitely something I'm doing for myself. I ain't a martyr, and I don't want you to bankrupt yourself in sponsoring me.
But if you want to, thanks!
However, first I do need to save up. Money is tighter than ever in this brave new world of publishing, but I have to buy a new saddle and protection for my glasses.
It's something that's been a pain in all my years of cycling. Every winter I have to stop, purely because when it rains, I'm blind. I cannot see a thing when my glasses get smeared, and I can see even less when I take the things off! However, I've heard of a firm in America that makes special rain-shields for helmets. There's another company that makes special treatments for such plastics, that destroy water's surface tension, so that rain runs straight off without pooling. With them, I hope I'll be able to cycle in normal Dartmoor weather and get a bit more exercise!
I'm very lucky to have been able to sell books in a number of countries. I've sold in America, to Italy, Greece, Germany, Holland, and many other countries.
When it comes to the Commonwealth countries, it's a little different. As in America, those books tend to be exported.
Which is why I am so pleased that for the first time Australia is publishing my books. I've never had books published over there before, but it's great to know that now Australian readers will be able to get hold of my books much more quickly.
I don't yet have the launch date for King's Gold in Oz, but I will put it up on my sites as soon as I do. It's just one more proof of how good Simon and Schuster are at marketing and selling my books.
If you're in Australia, get on to the local bookshops and demand your copies now. And then suggest that S&S Australia flies me over to attend Melbourne's or Sydney's literary festivals.
You never know. They might even do it!
And that is about it for now.
Keep an eye on my Facebook page. I'll be putting more up there daily. If you're interested in Twitter, look me up there, too. (Links are on the home page of this website).
Do please keep in touch with comments about the books and questions or complaints! Send your photos for my silly competition to , and keep an eye open for new competitions with King's Gold.
If you can, if you see any of my books mentioned, and it was one you liked, do please go to the site and leave a review. If you can, a positive one, yes. It makes a huge difference, I think, to see comments from happy readers.
And that is it. Hope you have a great spring, and a happy and profitable 2011!