Two hundred years of war. An overwhelming, vast army, wielded by a ruthless despot, bent on the slaughter of all Christians remaining in the Holy Land. And only a few citizens remaining to defend Acre, the one city left standing against the hordes.
Baldwin de Furnshill expected the threats of battle and danger, but he little knew that the battle for Acre would also become his journey from boyhood to man.
This is the premise for TEMPLAR’S ACRE– the newest release from the “Master of Medieval Mystery,” Michael Jecks.
Jecks is a British author who is no stranger to the world of thrillers. A countryman at heart, he was born near London, but family holidays in Devon made him realize that in the country was a maze of mystery and ages of history waiting to be unravelled.
He initially embarked on the journey to author of medieval mystery after working thirteen years in computer sales. But, all that changed while on honeymoon in 1993 when he was fortunate to visit Fursdon House, which is still, seven hundred years later, held by the same family. He immediately began plotting his first novel, a medieval murder mystery set during the destruction of the Templars – a terrible, but exciting time in English history.
His wife and family agreed to support him while he penned the first of many novels, THE LAST TEMPLAR. By mid-1994 it was sold to Headline Book Publishing, who commissioned two more in the series. It’s now grown to be one of the longest-running crime series in history.
His newest novel, TEMPLAR’S ACRE, is the 32nd in the Knights Templar Mystery series and despite being told that no series can last beyond eleven titles, Michael sees no end to the popular books. We asked him a few questions about the exciting release of TEMPLAR’S ACRE.
What is it that fascinates you most about the Knights Templar history?
In my day we were brought up at school to believe the Templars were as awful as they had been painted. Everyone, up until the later 20th Century, thought that they were guilty as charged, but it was clearly garbage. The Templars were religious men, who joined to become monks dedicated to protecting pilgrims in the Holy Land. They joined knowing that they would fight and probably die there. Their religious Order was more harsh and demanding, in many ways, than the Cistercians or Benedictines. They were dedicated, perhaps fanatical, but they demonstrated incredible courage and faith in the face of their enemies.
What type of research do you engage in prior to beginning a novel?
To be honest, it would be hard to say how I research. It is a constant effort, rather than something I do for a specific book. I first started reading about history when I was a kid. I read Churchill’s seven volume History of the Second World War before I was eleven, and started on Edward the First when I was twelve, and it is all that reading that colours my writing.
The most important thing about research is knowing when to stop. It’s not what goes into the book that demonstrates an author’s knowledge, it’s what he or she was confident to leave out. Otherwise the books would just be preaching history, and I don’t want to do that. I’m a thriller writer, whose books happen to be set far in the past.
What characteristics of your main character, Baldwin de Furnshill, are appealing to you as an author?
When I set out to write a book, I was not expecting to be writing about characters who would last for five books, let alone more than thirty. But with Baldwin, I knew I had a wonderful man.
The fun has come from seeing how their lives have changed over time, because with my books I cover from 1291 in Templar’s Acre, all through to 1328 in CITY OF FIENDS. It’s a great sweep of history, covering the end of the Templars, the Great European Famine, and a number of wars. A fabulous time (for a writer)!
How did you know that you were meant to be an author?
I have never believed in destiny. We all make our own destinies. I have never thought that I have a right to be an author. It’s more that I’ve worked very hard on my career, and I keep on working hard every day to keep the job.
Before writing, I spent thirteen years determinedly avoiding this fate. I always liked writing, but when I was at school I decided early on that I wanted a monthly salary, a pension, and ideally a bunch of good holidays each year. Being a callow youth, I decided I would be an actuary, because it’s the highest paid profession. Only when I was at university did I hear that the definition of an actuary is someone who finds accountancy too exciting. And after two years, I successfully proved to myself that I wasn’t that dull, was never going to qualify, and so instead started selling computers.
But as I said, I had always enjoyed writing. Even when a salesman, I had enjoyed the process of writing up responses to tender or getting my teeth (or pens) into an extensive report. There was always something about taking ideas and setting them down logically and legibly on paper that appealed to me. And as my employers folded around me (thirteen jobs in thirteen years – the first two, Wordplex and Wang Laboratories, lasted me five years each, so you can see how successful the other firms were!), every so often I would grasp at ideas and try to write something. And one day, when my latest company dispensed with my services, I started writing in earnest. In a little over a month I had the first draft of The Last Templar, and from that day, I have been a writer. And in June, it is going to be republished with the second two books in the series: THE MERCHANT’S PARTNER and A MOORLAND HANGING. The three are being reissued on the same day as TEMPLAR’S ACRE is published.
What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?
The only advice worth having is, I think: write!
Some authors gain a lot from creative writing courses, but I believe that such courses are a displacement activity. Writers exist to write, and going on courses is only a way of putting off the fateful day when you actually send your work off to an editor with the hope of seeing it later in print.
They should accept that in this day and age, to be a full-time writer is unlikely. Most are better off keeping hold of the day job and writing in their spare time.
When I started, we couldn’t afford a television license, so the TV went, and I worked seven days a week, getting up at six in the morning, and working at the keyboard for thirteen to fourteen hours a day to prove to myself that I could finish a book. I succeeded, but it wasn’t (and still isn’t) easy.
It is not as easy as it appears at first!
How do you spend a typical day as a writer?
I think there is no ‘typical’ day for an author!
I am lucky in that I used to be a salesman, so have the basic discipline of working. When the children rise for school, I get up at the same time, and usually I will be out of the house by half eight to walk the dog. I’m lucky enough to live on Dartmoor, and that means that there are endless places to walk with stunning views – usually of the rain!
While I’m out, I will work on the smartphone. I tend to get the urgent emails out of the way, as well as sending a whole load of tweets and updates to my Facebook pages while walking. I take a lot of photos, which I send through, so people can always see what the moors are looking like.
At ten to half-past I’ll sit down at my desk with a large cup of tea. It takes me fifteen minutes to get into the mood, which I achieve by reading the last paragraphs I wrote the day before, and by putting on some music suitable for the tone of the scene I’m in, or for the period. And then I start typing.
I work much faster than many authors, I know, but I’m lucky. I am writing about people I know intimately, about places and scenes I know, and a period that I have been almost living in for the last twenty years. All of these mean that I don’t have to put in too much effort before I’m in the “zone”.
When I’m in the middle of a book, I will write about a thousand words in every forty five minutes, and then take ten to fifteen minutes break. For me, that means roughly an entire scene written per hour, and the break is essential because it gives me time to clear my head, to fetch a coffee or tea, and to mull over the next scene while I’m doing it.
I’ll stop at about four, when the kids come back from school, and spend a couple of hours with them over tea, before getting back to my desk. And there I’ll stay, basically. I’ll usually take odd breaks to update Twitter and Facebook again, and stop work normally at about half twelve to one o’clock.
But of course no author is always in full writing mode all year round. For example, today I am preparing for the launch of Templar’s Acre. That means I’ve spent the morning as usual, walking the dog, doing tweets and updating my Facebook pages, but since then I’ve been sitting at my desk typing up this interview, checking on other interviews, confirming some events at which I am to talk, dealing with Marketing about posters and bookmarks, and writing up ideas for some new books.
All of which goes to show that there is no such thing as an ordinary day!
Michael Jecks is the author of the Templar Series of 32 novels. He has been the chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association, founded Medieval Murderers, and is a committee member of the Historical Writers’ Association. He is a popular speaker and lecturer on writing and the history of Edward II of England.
To learn more about Michael, please visit his website.