Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
I am the author of 43 novels and have collaborated on another ten. Most of my stories have been historical crime, with 32 in my Templar series.
When I first began writing, some 25 years ago, I was determined that each book would be entirely different from the one previous. I never wanted to be accused of writing the same book multiple times! With that decision, I was free to pick a range of styles and stories. Some are deliberately bleak, while others are light-hearted or humorous. I always wanted to present a realistic vision of how people lived, and so I chose carefully from a number of sources. The main one was Crown Pleas of the Devon Eyre of 1238, published by the Devon and Cornwall Record Office. This lists all the felonies and deaths recorded from about 1228-1238. It was a wonderful source of murder and mayhem, as well as providing me with actual events and the names of the participants.
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
The flippant answer is, any sight of my bank balance inspired my creativity! In reality, I am inspired by reading history, by visiting sites and by the news. The wonderful thing about crime is that it really doesn’t change. Over the years, the same factors have driven murderers: sex, jealousy, greed – these are human motivations, and do not change. Yes, the method of killing has altered, but the drivers that cause murder are the same as they were in the 1300s, or even earlier.
Many of my books are inspired by actual events. Some of those may be ancient court cases, such as The Mad Monk of Gidleigh, but then others, such as Squire Throwleigh’s Heir, reimagine modern murders and place them back in time. Historical crime gives the writer more freedom to look at modern events, or to comment on modern life generally. Authors who are writing about contemporary events are hamstrung to an extent by the constant fear of a libel action. There is no such concern when writing about imaginary events from hundreds of years ago.
How do you deal with creative block?
It can be a problem. The life of a writer can be fraught, and any number of problems can cause a block. Personally, I find that it doesn’t affect me much. My approach to it is to treat it as I would any other job. I call myself a writer, and that means I have to write. So if I cannot continue with the current story, I write a blog post or a series of emails to get the fingers working. The problem for most new writers is that they fear writing as an activity. Subconsciously, they are worrying, perhaps, that their work is not good enough; they think they’ll get panned in reviews; they think that …
This is not unique to new writers. All authors can suffer from this at one time or another. The only thing to do is get back into the saddle; start walking before trying to canter or gallop. Writing is exhausting and hard work – not that you receive much sympathy for saying so! I have had instances of writer’s block. All I have been able to do is keep writing. Much of what I write when in the middle of the block will have to be thrown away. It is not good enough for publication. However, the fact that I am writing is enough to get the creative juices flowing again. After a period (it could be a week, a month, or it could be only an hour), I find I am working again, and happy with my work. The only way is to write yourself out of a block.
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
Personally, I would say writing about something that doesn’t interest you. If you cannot be enthused by a subject, you won’t be able to excite a reader about it. I was once told to write a book about Baseball or Formula One racing, if I wanted to make money. The problem was, I have no interest in either.
Second is writing about something and trying to demonstrate how much research you have done. Someone who undertakes extensive research is always keen to show it, with characters taking on the role of lecturers, expounding on whatever the subject might be, as though the author’s waving at the reader, saying, “See? I’m an expert now!” It puts readers off. They don’t want all the ins and outs of Relativity when reading science fiction, they want just enough to make sense of the story. And the same goes for all books. If you’ve done the research, bully for you: don’t clutter the story with it!
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
Bad reviews can be a source of endless pain. I was chatting to a friend not long ago, and he said he carefully read every comment, because he felt that every reader was correct.
I had a review once that slashed my book sales. It was by someone who had not read my book, had not bought the book, but who gave it a single star review. Why? Because he didn’t like the cover.
It is astonishingly easy nowadays to put up reviews that are deliberately designed to damage reputations and harm book sales. As an author, it is almost impossible to get such reviews removed. So I made the conscious decision years ago to ignore all reviews on Amazon and similar sites. All too often they are written by embittered would-be authors, or other authors who want to puff their own works and denigrate the work of those they consider competitors. The reviews I respond to are the ones that are sent to me by actual readers, because I know that they have read the stories.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
I cannot tell who will pick up my books. Once I met a delightful young woman of 15 who told me she was my most devoted fan; a few weeks later I met a man in his 90s, who told me he was. I know the majority of my readers fit between those two extremes – but how can I tell who will pick up my books?
In the end, I write stories that appeal to me: stories of revenge, of justice, of honour, of love and of success and achievement after struggles. But they are definitely the stories that I would buy, were they available from other authors. I think for writers to be true to their craft, they have to ignore everyone else and write the sort of books they want. To change and try to write books that should suit some nebulous concept of an ideal reader, would only make the stories contrived, I think. I don’t think I could do that.
Do you have any creativity tricks?
I don’t have any “tricks” as such, but I do have my own ways of getting into the mood for writing. For example, I am a firm exponent of using music. When writing modern books, I will use modern music, or music from a period which suits a modern character. When I write historical tales, I will use the music from the film Kingdom of Heaven, for example, or music played on authentic instruments – such as the records by The York Waites, or Les Sacqueboutiers. Whatever the last music was that I played the previous night while typing is the music I will play the following morning while editing. That way I help myself to maintain the atmosphere from one day to the next.
Another thing I have learned is, not to have a firm idea about how the plot must run. Lots of authors say that their characters take over. Well, I think that’s a function of getting to know them. As you write, they develop more and more in your mind, and it is clear, on occasion, that the plot you carefully planned and outlined, is no longer fit for purpose. The characters wouldn’t behave like that.
Some writers immediately try to change their characters to suit, or, worse, simply make their characters slaves to the plot. NO! Let the characters run riot. They know what they would or wouldn’t do. The plot is only a vehicle for the characters to tell their story. Don’t twist them: use them!
What are your plans for future books?
I am back writing crime now. There is a new Templar series story waiting to be told, and I hope to bring that to life before long. A first draft is already written, and it merely needs hacking into shape. Then I have a modern police procedural set in Plymouth which, again, is drafted, and needs to be rewritten and fleshed out. But I also have modern stories based on other characters, and two historical novels set in the more recent past, as well as some books which are modern adventure thrillers, which I think could be well received.
As always, it’s not a problem thinking up stories – it’s much more an issue of finding time to put the stories down on paper!
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
There isn’t much to tell, sadly. I spend far too much time sitting in my office and either typing or editing. However, when I do get out, I enjoy dancing … specifically, Morris dancing. Why? Well, it’s highly energetic, a great way to keep in shape(ish), and a means of acquiring free beer. And I have to say that the guys in my Morries “side” are all thoroughly wonderful men who are, I suppose, some of my best friends.
Apart from that, I have the one main hobby, which is making pictures. I don’t care whether they are paintings (I enjoy watercolouring) or photographs. I enjoy getting the best perspective, creating an image that will capture someone’s attention, and either make them pause for a moment, or chuckle.
Sadly, though, I never seem to have enough time to paint as much as I would like.
the first in the Crusader Series from Simon and Schuster
This is a fantastic book a real page turner. Looking forward to the next book in the series.
A powerful character-focused historical novel. Full review at classicmystery.wordpress.com
Great characters, brilliant settings, rousing battles. Michael Jecks is a master of his craft. I would recommend any of his books.
I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of action and romance. Pilgrim’s War is in many ways a sweeping historical epic.
ACT OF VENGEANCE
now available as ebook or print on demand from Endeavour Press
A Missed Murder
in the Bloody Mary series from Severn House
instant classic British spy novel – mature, thoughtful, and
intelligent … but
also raw enough for our modern times. Highly recommended.”
magic by the master of the medieval”
Jecks is a national treasure”
Scotland on Sunday
“A textbook example of how to blend action and detection in a historical”