An Author Inspirations
By Michael Jecks
When I was at school, my absolute conviction was, that I wanted nothing to do with the arts as a career. The income would be irregular, probably low, and I was determined to be sensible. I studied hard and went to university to study Actuarial Science.
It was very interesting, to discover that exams could be failed. Also, I knew actuarial work was very well paid, but I hadn’t heard the definition of an Actuary: “someone who finds accountancy too exciting”. This soon became clear to me as I stared at LIFE AND OTHER CONTINGENCIES and ADVANCED CALCULUS with not even a faint flicker of comprehension.
I left university without a degree and joined the ranks of the employed, taking a position with a small company selling office equipment. Soon I was selling office automation computers for companies like Wordplex, Xerox and Wang laboratories. But in the eighties a recession hit. Every company I worked for went bust - invariably owing me considerable sums. My incentive to start a new career came when I had totted up thirteen jobs in thirteen years. It seemed to me that someone was giving me an almighty hint.
So, in 1994, I started to write.
I had tried to write books before. At one low point in my life, while parked in a jam on the M25, I had heard an author on the TODAY programme talking about her life. She mentioned that she earned ten percent of the price of a hardback, and sold fifty thousand copies a year. Books then cost about sixteen pounds each. So she earned eighty thousand in hardback sales alone - and then she had paperbacks too. Those numbers stuck in my head as I stared at the row of stationary cars in front of me.
From that day, when ever I had spare time, I would sit and bash at a typewriter - but I never could break through the two or three chapters barrier. If I had been able to find more time perhaps I could have continued one of those stories, but the life of a computer salesman was hectic, and time was at a premium.
However, my thirteenth employer (now, happily, sunk to Dante’s fourth circle of hell) had the temerity to dispense with my services without actually folding. Floating on the stock market, they fired everyone who didn’t have employment protection, to make their figures look better. I was out of work, and never received my final pay cheque - which I balanced by retaining their IBM PS2 computer.
I started to write.
But what should an unemployed (and unemployable) computer salesman write about? All I knew was, I loved reading. I loved thrillers, especially fast-paced action stories, so I started the idea for a book rather like a Frederick Forsythe (at least, it was in my mind). I began on the first of January, and by the end of the month had my first draft.
That book, THE SNIPER, was accepted in a matter of weeks by a publisher over the phone. A few weeks later, we received a letter - it was a formal rejection. Why? Because the book was thrilling, fast, full of bombs, bullets, fast ladies and fast cars, and in particular the IRA. And they agreed their first cease-fire just after the telephone acceptance, so my book was dead in the water.
However, fortunately, in the meantime I had written the draft of another book. This was a medieval story, set in the early 1300s, and became the first of my Last Templar Mystery series starring Sir Baldwin de Furnshill and Bailiff Simon Puttock, set mostly on Dartmoor in Devon.
I have always been fascinated by history, and especially the history of warfare - not only the strategies and tactics of the battlefield, but also the politics and social issues that led to war in the first place. In late 1993, I read a book by the American historian John J. Robinson called DUNGEON, FIRE AND SWORD, a history of the Knights Templar. It was, for me, quite revelatory, and gave me several strands of ideas that I would employ for over thirty two titles in my Last Templar Mystery series.
But the inspiration did not stop there. I began studying that century in depth; initially the very beginning of the period, during the reign of the unhappy King Edward II, but that forced me to read on into the period of Edward III, his son, and naturally I began to study the Hundred Years War, the seeds of which were sown in Edward II’s reign, but which flourished in the 1340s.
I was enthralled by this period: this was the time of Crécy, of Calais, of Poitiers - but it was also that of the great European famine and the plague.
It was fascinating, and because it led on from my original series, it was very attractive. I began to study it carefully, going to visit the tombs of soldiers of that period, such as Sir John de Sully, one of the early Knights of the Garter, a man who lived to a hundred and six years, who fought in the battle of Najera when he was over seventy years old, serving under the Black Prince. He was a truly inspirational man for a writer, and I started to sketch out ideas for him as I learned more about him.
|Sir John de Sully after his death in 1386. He was born in 1281. His tomb is in Crediton church.|
Before long I had the idea of a BAND OF BROTHERS theme: a group of men taken to war. What would motivate them, why would they have sought to cross the sea to attack a country vastly larger than their own, with an army thought to be the most advanced and powerful in all Christendom? What would the men have felt when they made that great march from the coast all the way to Paris, before fleeing before the French King’s forces, to finally turn at bay at the fateful battlefield of Crécy?
I had the idea of using Sir John de Sully as a commander, and then set to invent a group of archers under him. In a tribute to George MacDonald Fraser’s wonderful book QUARTERED SAFE OUT HERE, I called the Falstaffian commander “Grandarse”, and the more solid leader of twenty bowmen, the Vintener, Berenger Fripper. Under him were the whiners, the jokers, the stern, the anxious, and the frankly psychopathic.
The first book using these was set on the march to Crécy, and this, the second, BLOOD ON THE SAND, is the tale of the year following, when much of Edward’s army was camped outside Calais, hoping to bring the French to battle again, hoping to capture the city as a foothold on French soil ready to be exploited. It was the year of French invasion forces landing in Scotland to attack the English at their weakest, a year of swift riding for my archers, a year when they lost comrades, and gained more. And it was a year when Berenger Fripper and others began to wonder why they were fighting.
The Vintener Trilogy has been very well received, and I hope you will enjoy it too!
Blood on the Sand
(The Vintener Trilogy Book 2)
By Michael Jecks
The Siege of Calais, during the Hundred Years' Wars. The thrilling second novel in a new series for master of the historical adventure, Michael Jecks, perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden.
Calais, 1346. Berenger Fripper and his men are stationed in the ancient port city, a city under English control and surrounded by enemies. They are here to defend their newly won territory from the French and their allies the Genoese.
Enemies are all about them, but there is also trouble within. Someone in the vintaine is leaking vital information to the French, jeopardizing not only the safety of the men but also the future of the war, and Berenger must find out who before it's too late.
And when the vintaine is attacked at sea and captured by the Genoese it looks as though their luck has run out. Can Berenger defeat the enemies that surround him and keep the English victorious?
Praise for Michael Jecks
"More magic by the master of the medieval”
"Michael Jecks is a national treasure"
Scotland on Sunday
“A textbook example of how to blend action and detection in a historical”
Pick up your copy of
Blood on the Sand
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Michael Jecks is the author of the bestselling Knights Templar series. A regular speaker at library and literary events, he is a past Chairman of the Crime Writers' Association and a Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund at Exeter University. He was shortlisted for the Harrogate/Theakston’s Old Peculier prize for the best crime novel of the year 2007, the year Allan Guthrie won. He lives with his wife, children and dogs in northern Dartmoor.
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See you on your next coffee break!
Mary Anne xxx