Hello, and welcome to the first newsletter of 2014!
Sorry it's been such a long time since my last newsletter, but bear with me: I've been running around and there is rather a lot to fit into this edition!
Those of you who had been keeping tabs on me via my blogs and tweets will know that I'm a little busy just now. I've a book to write urgently - the second in the Hundred Years War series. It's not finished yet, not by a long chalk, so that's my main focus just now.
I'm hugely enjoying it, I have to admit. In the first book in the series, which is to be called Fields of Glory (out on June 5th 2014 from Simon and Schuster), I follow a vintaine of archers through the hardships and dangers of the Crécy campaign. It is a tale of ordinary soldiers in extraordinary times: the campaign started full of delight, but soon the little English army was brought to realise that if the French caught them, there would be no quarter. A dangerous game of cat-and-mouse developed, and I look at how the men reacted.
For this book I've been asked to submit a short story. My apologies to those who (like me) stick to reading on paper. These shorts have, apparently, got to be electronic. However, I'm going to see whether I can get them added to a future book as a free add-on.
In any case, Fields of Glory is a great story. It's made all the stronger by the fact that it's based so solidly on historical fact - because I know that my readers like accuracy as well as a good read - and with a campaign like this, there's no need to embellish.
The second book in the series is proving to be even more fun for me. I'm taking my characters on some long journeys before the capture of Calais in 1347, and it's been hugely enjoyable playing with the different fellows involved, throwing them into unpleasant situations and seeing how they cope. So far, so good!
Writing, sadly, has this week had to be put on hold. Yesterday the copyedit of Fields of Glory appeared on my desk. I have one week to try to go through the copyedit and send it all back. Which usually would be OK, but just now it's proving more than a little challenging, because I have some other things to do.
I've been working with the Royal Literary Fund's Fellowship Scheme for the last eighteen months, helping students on a one-to-one basis with their writing. I meet students in my office, and we go through their essays, their dissertations or other work, and see how it can be improved. Some students need fairly intense work, while others need to be reminded where commas go - but the great thing is, they're all challenging to me as a writer. Recently, in one day, I had to help an historian, a couple of students of English Literature, one studying theology, another who is a foreign student writing her Masters, a medical student, a law student, a drama student, and goodness knows how many others. I've been working on up to nine in a day, taking no lunch or even tea breaks! Not my usual working style.
This is great, but it's a challenge, too. For one thing, losing two days a week has been tough. It's slowed down my writing enormously, so that I am rather behind. It has given me an interesting new diversion, though, of which more later.
After university, I will have another little challenge to cope with. I will be flying off to America to sign some books and meet some people, hopefully, who want to chat to an English author. There are a few, you know!
I fly in to New Orleans on Wednesday 12th in the evening. I'm honoured to have been invited to be the Grand Marshal of the parade of the Krewe of Little Rascals. I'm enormously grateful to Jack Spittler for arranging my invitation.
I understand my job will be to ride a float and hurl various gifts to the folks lining the parade. It's not something I've done since my days at university in London, when I was on the float for the Royal Company of Saddlers, and I'm looking forward to it enormously. Usually I expect to have things thrown at me!
On the Saturday, I'm visiting the Barnes & Noble store at 3271 Veterans' Boulevard, Metairie. It'll be my first visit to a B&N in eight or nine years, and I'm looking forward to that immensely.
Then, on Monday 17th, I'll be flying off to Greenville-Spartanburg. On Tuesday I'm giving a talk to Lander University (it's open to the public, so come if you can), organised by Connie Edwards. She and I almost met many years ago, when I was over in Ball State University with a literary festival, but her car broke down on her way there, so we never got to meet. Well, at last we shall this year! I am vastly grateful to her for all her hard work getting this sorted.
On Wednesday I'll be found loitering around from Ryan's to Howard's on Main, while on Thursday I'll be off to another signing: this time at B&N's store on Haywood Road. With luck I'll see some of you there!
After all that, it's back to the UK for the weekend ready for the next bunch of students. I'm not sure what condition I'll be in for them, but hey ho. I'm a free resource!
And that leads me back to the idea I mentioned earlier.
Over the years I've been enormously fortunate to work with some superb businessmen and professionals. I've had a great time, whether as a salesman or a writer, but taking up Morris dancing has introduced me to more guys that I would never have met, were it not for the dancing (and pubs afterwards). One of these is Ian Crawford.
Ian's one of those fellows who has packed three or four lifetimes into a short period. He was military (with my father's old mob, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers), and with REME he travelled the world several times. Generally, as I understand it, seeking out the better beaches and learning windsurfing.
When he came out he wanted to work with businesses, but soon he realised that he had a great empathy and interest in people. Moving businesses from process-orientated, mechanistic organisations to become relationship-based, has been his goal for the last twenty years, and he has become so successful that a mere author can only look at his bank balance with unadulterated lust. But like so many top-flight businesspeople I've met, he has always remained grounded, kind, generous, and damn good fun to be with.
He and I have been mulling over ideas recently, and after a long discussion over my kitchen table this morning, we're going to go into a joint venture.
We both have a wealth of experience in work, and a vast store of anecdotes from the point of view of business and personal work, so we're collaborating on some talks that will be designed both to entertain and inform. We'll be bringing these together in the next few months and then - well, we'll see what happens. I think that we could become known as a double act for motivational talks on breaking down barriers in organisations and bringing better results by communication.
Talking of speaking engagements, I have been working for many years with Medieval Murderers, the performance group I founded eleven years ago. It seems astonishing to think that the gathering in a little pub could have led to so many speaking engagements up and down the country. The tenth novel written by us - The Deadliest Sin - will be published this summer. Sadly, the dedication is a heartfelt thank you to our lovely agent, Dot Lumley, who died last year after a struggle with cancer, so it's a poignant event for us. However, we do enjoy the working together, and this month we have a meeting organised to plan the next title. The eleventh - so long as the publisher wants it!
In other news, I have helped create a new literary festival for later this year. For more about it, please check out the AsparaWriting Festival.
The basic idea is based on the fact that we wanted a literary festival designed specifically for new authors: for aspiring writers. So, we've created a series of events for people to work with authors and gain an insight into how they work, what they do, what tweaks they use to get the work done.
The AsparaWriting festival will have an author hosting two workshops in Coughton Court, a lovely National Trust building, and a talk afterwards. For those who want to make a break of it, the Evesham Hotel is arranging fantastic packages for overnight stays. I've been staying at the Evesham, and I can vouch for the quality of the staff, accommodation and especially the food!
It will be great fun, with brilliant authors: Stella Duffy, Robert Low, Rebecca Tope, Simon Brett, Alyson Hallett, Quintin Jardine, Peter Guttridge, Edward Marston, Judith Cutler - and me! I hope this will be a great success.
Apart from all that, not a lot is on. Which is, I promise, a relief. I must finish my book, and as soon as that's put to bed, I've another book to write, then a spy story as a follow up to Act of Vengeance, then a modern police story set in Plymouth, and some other projects I need to crack: I have the next Medieval Murderer story, as I mentioned, and there's a short story for an anthology, as well as writing a chapter for the next Detection Club offering.
So all in all, this year is set to be a busy one. Wish me luck. I have a feeling I'll need it!
Have a great 2014