Newsletter August 2021

The last month has not been the best ever, sadly.

It started well enough, with a journey up to Derby and the Swanwick Writers' Summer School. I've been there a few times now, talking about various subjects, but this was my first venture into week-long talks about writing. This year I took on the task of explaining to fifty-odd enthusiastic writers how to write historical fiction, which seemed such a good idea two years ago when I first put the idea forward. Of course it all seems rather different when you have to sit down and rationalise exactly how to put into words all the things you tend to do as second nature. How to talk about research, characterisation, choosing a period to write about?


Luckily I had two free weeks in which to work out what on earth I would be talking about. I needed them both, and even then the talk was developing and changing as I was there. Every afternoon tended to be spent in hectic rejigging of slides, designing new slides, thinking up witty additional comments about writing, and generally pulling my hair out.

Swanwick always plans one day free for the lecturers, so that we could regroup and recuperate. This year that was a bit of a failure because I had six keen writers who wanted time with me. I had them send me their works so that I could read through and work out a decent analysis and give some ideas on how to improve their work, but that took more time, of course, and by evening all I could do was sink into a chair and sink several beers.


On Thursday, after I'd completed my talks, I took the opportunity to test myself for Covid, and then with a clear conscience and negative result, drove back home. And of course the next morning I received a warning that the Chair of the School had gone down with Covid, and I, like all other participants, was warned to be vigilant for signs of the disease.

I took another (negative) test. My family tends to take two a week as standard anyway, because with our son at school, he has been required to take two a week for months, and we tend to join him. But I was well enough, clearly. Except that on the Sunday following, I started having a runny nose and sneezed quite a lot. The sore throat started on Monday, and naturally I assumed the worst. I took another negative test. No Covid.

This is of course one of the issues. Anyone who gets a sniffle immediately assumes the worst. And it's natural enough, after the last year. But while Covid has been running through the population like a Russian sprinter on steroids, there are still all the other little infections that can incapacitate people. Summer colds have not gone away. And as always, they can be about the most horrible colds we can catch. And as usual, because I had a cold, I responded in my normal manner, by being particularly lethargic, aching all over because of coughing and sneezing, and basically sitting down in any convenient and comfortable chair to doze.

It's what I call "planning the next book". Others less generous would probably call it "being bone idle".

And all was well. I had this cold for about two days; after that my wife caught it for another three, and we hit the weekend. Which was when things started going horribly wrong. Because we took another test each, and this time ... well, it wasn't negative. It was definitely positive. Monday we went to the mobile testing centre, and Tuesday morning we got the result: we were both suffering not from colds, but from Covid.

So, for now, we are isolating. The advice is, to isolate for ten days from the first obvious signs of infection. That was Sunday of last week, but I'll isolate for my wife's term, just to be sure we aren't passing it on to other people.


Still, now I can get on to more happy topics. This week I have started to research for Jack Blackjack/Bloody Mary book seven. Originally this was to be a story set in Exeter, but I have fallen out of love with that concept. Instead I am taking him back to London, and this time I think I'll have him move house. That will give me an additional new scene involving his neighbour's wife, and I'll have to give him a new victim as well, I think. Perhaps this time he will be instructed to kill someone, but his sub-contractor (I think a new character because Humfrie being off sick - my life intruding into my stories, you see) whacks the wrong fellow. That should give me a fair bit to work with, I think.

The Moorland Murderers

And meanwhile, if you are wondering why I mentioned that I'll take him back to London, you may want to pick up his latest adventures: The Moorland Murderers. This new story is published by Severn House on 26th August, but the print run is very small, I'm afraid, so do order your copy quickly if you want your own hardback. It should be available in the libraries immediately, and as an e-book too, so you have several ways of acquiring a copy. I do have (very) limited stocks of author copies for those who want a signed edition. Failing that, if you will pay for the cost of a stamp, I can send you a signed book plate.

Rebellion's Message

Of course if you are keen to see more books by me, and if you want a copy of the first of the Bloody Mary series, I do have some copies of Rebellion's Message for discerning readers! Let me know if you would like one of these.

Apart from all this, I have submitted an idea to my agent which she has snapped up enthusiastically, and which will keep me busy early in the New Year. She is currently holding on to two manuscripts, one set in 1920s Shanghai, the other a modern crime story. I have some hopes for both, although just now it's very hard to place historical books. The publishers that do have them tend to think that they already have enough, and those which don't seem to believe that they really don't need any. Publishing just now is a ridiculous mess, it really is.


Don't forget, for more regular news and snippets about my work, I have a Patreon account where you can have weekly updates on the progress of my work. I'm also reviewing pens and inks on my YouTube account, and reviewing books on my blog over at WriterlyWitterings. So you have several different ways of keeping in touch!

All best wishes, and I hope you keep free of this blasted disease!
Mike Jecks

North Dartmoor
August 2021