Newsletter December 2005

It seems as though no sooner have I finished the latest newsletter than my ever-vigilant web-site administrator is asking me for the next one. Sadly, this year, I've been a little slow to get on with things, and she's been cracking the whip, so here, at last, it is!


"Doodle Bug"
© Devon Wildlife Trust

But first, an urgent announcement: please help me to support the Devon Wildlife Trust - and maybe buy yourself a really unusual piece of artwork! A few months ago, I agreed to sketch a dragonfly for the Trust's Charity Art Auction; now my sketch is one of the last batch of "doodle bugs" for sale on the eBay auction site. You can find out more about the auction on the Devon Wildlife Trust web site: or check the Trust's eBay shop to see all the dragonflies currently on sale.

And then, of course, I have to mention my two latest books. The Butcher of St Peter's has made it into paperback now, and there's also a new hardback, A Friar's Bloodfeud, which is a little bit of a diversion from my usual work, but a story I've been thinking about for a while.

So, both themes came to me while I was on tour in the US, and had the experience which every struggling, hard-up and thirsty crime writer dreads. Well, every British one, anyway. I was unable to get a drink for two days. Both stories came to me as a result of watching TV.

The first was like this: I'd done a fairly strenuous tour across the mid-west, and had two final gigs to worry about. One was in Madison, and I reached the hotel on a cold, wet Sunday night. It was a bad time, what with having been on tour for a good four weeks or so and being very tired, and all I really wanted was a quiet meal, then a nap. So I dumped my bags in my room, washed, and went downstairs to the not very busy restaurant where I found myself more or less alone. There was one other man in the place, probably a salesman, but even so the service was not the fastest I've ever experienced. Anyway, a pleasant young girl came to take my order, and I asked for some food (by that stage, all food had merged into one and I couldn't tell you what I asked for). I also asked for some wine.

I don't think that there was anything too radical in that request. I know that some people may think that wine can dull the senses or harm the taste sensation that this hostelry was about to serve, but I was somewhat put back to be told that there was none. Nope, nothing at all. I could see from where I was sitting that there was a good-sized bar only a snappy step away, and enquired in a most moderate voice why no one could serve me from it.

"The barman was there, but when no one turned up by nine, he thought he may as well go home. He took the keys with him."

My delight at this news was only enhanced by spending the following night in Minneapolis, where I found myself deposited in a different hotel (from the same chain) which had no bar at all. And I was strongly advised not to go out to find a place for a beer. That would not be safe.

So instead for two nights I sat in and enjoyed American TV. There were two news stories at the time, the Washington sniper, and a curious case of a man who was breaking into houses and looking at kids asleep. Not, you understand, molesting them, but merely watching them as they slept. It fascinated me - both as an amateur criminologist and as a parent. How would I have reacted to that, and how would others in the 1300s have responded?

The second book came about because I was fascinated, while in America again, to read of way that powerful men had taken control of industries. Wherever you go, in Pittsburgh, Vegas or anywhere else, it seems that one clan or another has taken over the place. It reminded me of an incident in Devon's colourful history.

In the later 1300s, the son of the earl of Devon had gone to a lawyer's house and, when the man sensibly retreated into his house, ordered his men to take the horses and movables and burn the fellow's outhouses. The reason was, apparently, that this lawyer was allied to a man whom the good earl did not like.

Having taken the eminently sensible precaution of barring access to his house, this lawyer then made a subtle mistake. The earl's son promised he would do the man no harm if he only let him in. Once the door was opened, though, the man's house was ransacked, and then he was murdered and left in his blood on the floor.

It shows, I think, that when the law breaks down and public order collapses, people who are prepared to risk all for their own benefit will often prevail over those who have relatively little power.

The setting is all around Iddesleigh, a lovely little village way off the beaten track, and if you ever have a chance to get up there, do! The Duke of Yorkshire is a wonderful pub, managed by one of the country's best publicans. Jamie's beer is excellent, and the food's even better - and he hasn't even offered to pay me to say so!

But not all the year is spent writing. The past year's been busy, as usual, with talks to enthusiastic readers (thanks, Kathy Ackley), opening some different events (thanks too to Dartmoor Folk Festival!), local history groups and the inevitable libraries and bookshops. All great fun, and I am hoping to be doing more events in the New Year.

Talking to the Exeter Red Coats

Talking to the Exeter Red Coats

My last speaking event of the year was given to the Exeter Red Coats. These are the guides who, for free, take parties around Exeter, showing off all the famous streets, and telling the history of the city. They were very kind to me at the annual general meeting, and I had a wonderful lunch with them. If you visit Exeter, I would recommend that you join in with them - you'll learn more in an hour with them than in the library or museum!

In the last five months I've had several new departures. Look out for my short stories in Mike Ashley's latest anthology (details will follow, honest!), and if you liked The Tainted Relic, keep an eye open for the follow up book from Simon and Schuster in May: The Shameful Sword.

In this story, the Medieval Murderers and I have taken the example of a sword, surprisingly enough - one which was originally forged before the Norman conquest, and which has won a dire reputation. Over the centuries our investigators find numerous mysteries to resolve as they come into contact with it. Like The Tainted Relic it was enormous fun to write, although I have to admit that trying to maintain continuity was a struggle when my predecessor, Ian Morson, had the temerity to take the thing out to the crusader kingdoms! Still, I think that the stories tie together very well again, and we're already starting to think about a third book in this curious series.

Looking ahead, for me the most important thing about 2006 is going to be the startling thought that I will have come of age as a writer. In May, my twenty-first book is to be published: The Death Ship of Dartmouth. I'm discussing with Headline how we can best mark this curious milestone, and I'll be letting you know as soon as our plans have begun to gell.

Tinners' Morris at Belstone

Tinners' Morris at Belstone

In the meantime, I'm making sure that I get a regular injection of silliness, having been in at the formation of a small Morris side down here in the deeps of Devon.

The Injured Crawford Tinners' Morris Dancing

Tinners' Morris Dancing (left) and The Injured Crawford (right)
Photographs © Mark Bazeley, melodeon player extraordinaire, from the Dartmoor Pixie Band

Not all of us are as safe as others. In fact, to my shame, the only real injury committed by one of us on another, was by me. Sorry, Ian.
At least at lunchtime no one was knocked out.

And that's it for another year. A set of proofs has just arrived, so I have some work to finish before Christmas. For now, though, the most important thing I have to do is wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy and Prosperous New Year! I hope you carry on enjoying my work, and look forward to meeting as many of you as possible in the year ahead.

All best wishes
Michael Jecks
North Dartmoor

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Last update: 12th December 2005