Newsletter Midsummer 2012

Books, books and more books!

It's always a thrilling thing to see a new book appear.

I can still remember the excitement when I heard that my first book was going to make it into print. I took the call in my hall, and all but danced a jig as I heard. Since I was about to go for a holiday, that was excellent timing, too. It made for a great break.

In recent years I've been hit hard by the change in the market, as have most authors. Incomes have been dramatically squeezed, because when an author's income depends upon what discounts are offered, and the main retailers demand up to 90% discount, life grows more difficult, but still there is that buzz when a new story comes out.

This latest is a strange one for me. It's not sad, it's different, because it's the end of another period in my writing.

As you will know, if you've been reading my books, I started out writing fairly gritty crime novels which were plonked into the early 1300s, and they were well-received. But at the time I was writing about specific aspects of history and Devon which interested me: from tin-mining to leprosy and beyond. That wasn't going to carry on for long.

That was why I chose to change direction slightly. The books were still selling well, and I reckoned that a digression into some of the darker legends of Dartmoor would be good. I added the story of the Abbot's Way and suddenly life opened up again, but it wasn't until I began to throw myself into the appalling Despenser and the politics of the end of Edward II's reign that I became really comfortable.

There is something about that period that fascinates me. It's so full of dubious characters, from Stapeldon to the household knights in the King's service, who look to be thoroughly bad, but when reviewed from another perspective, become more sympathetic. I have enjoyed writing about the period enormously. And there are more stories I need to write about the end of Edward's reign, the change in fortunes of the folk of Devon, and how his son came to power while still under the control of the once-heroic, latterly appalling Mortimer.

City of Fiends

This latest story, City of Fiends, continues with the period. And I hope it will grab readers even more than previous tales.

It begins in that awful time when the abdicated King Edward II had been released from his prison by the Dunheved brothers. For some little while, Mortimer and Edward III must have felt that their power was slipping. For Mortimer, the return of the king would have been catastrophic: it would obviously cost him his head; for Edward III, the sudden reappearance of his father would also have been extraordinarily difficult.

But when I began to delve further into the history, I was struck by Exeter's cathedral.

Stapeldon had died in the middle of the riots in London at the very end of King Edward II's period of office, and his replacement was selected only after some debate: Bishop James Berkeley. And he died suddenly.

It astonished me to find that, while the old King was released by conspirators from his gaol in Berkeley Castle, Bishop James died.

There is little to be found in the chronicles about this bishop's death, but there was one intriguing reference to the effect that after his death, Berkeley's manors were despoiled. It sounded to me as though they could have been plundered by men opposed to his family's capture of the King, and that led directly to City of Fiends, a story which brings back many old friends: Sir Charles de Lancaster, Sir Richard de Welles among others.

I hope you like the story.

But it is, sadly, the end of an era for my writing. Because the next book will be a 'prequel'.

The sad fact is, Baldwin and Simon have achieved a great deal, but all series have to, if not end, at least take a pause.

It's taken a lot of soul-searching, and it's not been easy to come to this decision, but I need a break from them. I have lived exclusively in the early 1300s for the last seventeen years, and I have to try to find other opportunities.

This is not to say that there will be no more stories from them. I have unfinished business with the end of the reign of King Edward II, and his demise (or, rather, his escape to Italy), and with Baldwin's first few years at the Templars. But I don't think that these stories will be mass-market paperbacks.

Rather, I feel I may return to them in electronic books, with perhaps fewer sales.

Instead, I have written a modern thriller which will hopefully be published later in the year, and I am working on a project following English troopers on the chevauchée immediately before Crécy. It's proving wildly exciting for me to get stuck into this period, and the battle scenes have already begun to take over my life (note to self: try to get out more...). In future, I think there will be more books in a similar vein, looking at Poitiers and perhaps the battles fought all over northern Italy. Because I am, when all is said and done, a keen military enthusiast, not just a 1300's nerd!

So, I hope you will bear with me with these new projects. I'll be trying to keep you informed as things change in the next few years, both from newsletters and from my blog sites. Do please keep an eye on them.


And so to other news.

I have been selected to become a Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund - which may sound like an award for good writing, but sadly isn't! It means I'm becoming an adviser to university students at Exeter Uni, helping them with writing their essays.

It's a brilliant idea. The concept was, that authors of all kinds should be brought in to assist students who were finding essay-writing hard. The writers would sit down one-to-one with the students and attempt to focus their thinking. Hopefully the process of seeing how professional writers analyze problems and break them down in order to attack them on paper would help those who found it difficult, and generally the idea has worked very well.

So if you have any students in your family at Exeter, get them to visit me if they need help!


For the Love of Old Bones

I am also compiling a series of short stories to be sold on the internet. These are the four Baldwin and Puttock stories that were published in anthologies over the years, and I hope that there will be something in them for readers of the main series. Another parcel of shorts will be put together later in the year, but this will be stand-alone tales from the Roman period up to the present day. One, a thriller, will be offered on its own, probably at the same time as my modern thriller is published, since the two are sort of complementary.

I am also working on a book with someone else - my first attempt at 'ghosting' a story. It's a thrilling process, but daunting, especially while I'm in the middle of another book, but I think it's a story that really does have to be told. And of course, I cannot say any more about it just now, although I will be letting you know more about it as the project develops.

And that, for now, is about it. This year has been exceptionally hard, and even our single summer holiday ended in near disaster when winds gusting at 70 mph nearly destroyed our family tent, but with luck this year will be a turning point.

A short note - if you are looking for any of my books, please check out my blog at Writerly Witterings, where I am putting up some of my stock of books for sale.

Have a great summer!

Michael Jecks

Northern Dartmoor
June 2012