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Morris, Mayhem and Marketing

Guest post by Michael Jecks...


This week has been rather lovely!

It all kicked off with a wonderful Saturday, the first day in ages that has been warm and summery. And thank goodness for that, because I, and the rest of Tinner’s Morris, were dancing out with Winkleigh Morris.

Morris at play

Morris more or less died out after the First World War, because just as all the other communities, Morris sides joined up as complete units with the outbreak of war. That war was horrible for so many things, but the damage done to English culture was catastrophic. The Morris men joined, and many became organised into platoons. And for many of them, the war ended on the first day of the Somme, when all these young men had completed their basic training.

Some years ago I was secretary to a pistol club, and from interest I studied the records. The membership in 1914 was over a page long. But by the end of the summer in 1916, only four or five names remained. The men had all volunteered as a group, and they were wiped out in their first battle. The same happened to little clubs up and down the country, but Morris was more devastated than any other, and the reason was simple: every Morris side had its own variations of their dances. When the one or two men from the side who remembered the dances were killed, there were no videos or DVDs to refer to, no tape recorders or MP3 players, to remind a new generation how their dances were performed.

It is only in recent years that Morris has grown again. A mad Victorian did have an interest in Morris and folk dancing, and he made copious notes. And now his notes are being used to rediscover the dances. It is a great thing to have so many return. Morris is at least six hundred years old, and some reckon far older still. It would be a terrible thing, were we to lose this part of our cultural heritage.

Sadly, all too much is gone for ever, but at least some of the great traditions have survived, and that is enough cause for celebration. And we all celebrated on Saturday!

It was an excellent day, with coaches transporting Tinner's, Cogs and Wheels, and the Cornish Wreckers from one town to another. We travelled all over the north of Devon before being returned via one last pub.

And I'm glad I had that day, because the rest of the week has been full of writing. At least I had one day out!

Much of the week has been involved with proof-reading past books. I have published thirty-two books now, with a thirty-third available as an ebook and another ready to print next year. However, the first twenty eight were all published with a different company, Headline. Since I've moved, Headline have agreed that Simon and Schuster can take the series over, and the first thirteen have been taken on.

On June 6th, my thirty-second book is to be published. The Templar's Acre is, I think, going to do well and has already won praise from other writers and critics. My editor feels the same, and so she has decided to republish the older books alongside this new one: there will be the first three published on the same day, and then three books will be republished every month from then on.

Which seems marvellous, until the poor old author has to go back and reread all his work from twenty years ago.

The publishers copy over, or have retyped, all the words in the books, and then print a copy for the author. So, my job has been, for the last four months, to drop everything and read like billy-oh for two weeks at a time, looking for any errors or typos.

A stack of proofs

It's not always terribly easy!

Of course, the worst thing is, the shameful truth that I do not remember any of the books.

My first radio interview was a salutary lesson for me. I was invited to Radio Devon to meet Janet Kipling, and drove down to Plymouth full of the joys of spring. I was ushered into a waiting room (the BBC always asks people in half an hour early to ensure they don't turn up late) and left to wait.

At the signal, a door opened, and I was led into the studio, a small, compact office full of computers, radio sets, and a couple of large, oddly-shaped tables. Around the walls were sound-deadening nodules and cheap board. I was excited just to be there.

Janet turned out to be a lovely young woman with masses of curly brown hair and a beaming smile. She welcomed me, explained the format of the show, a light came on, and we were away.

The easy part was the first, when she got me to talk about my background, what I'd been doing before taking up a keyboard and so on. It's easy to talk about yourself, and we had a good chat before she asked me about someone by name.

I had no idea what she was talking about. I thought the name she'd given me was from the newspaper or TV news, and I explained I hadn't seen the news. She laughed a little at that, and then asked me again.

I should explain that this was all about my first book, and it was March 1996 to celebrate the publication of the paperback of Last Templar.

However, the hardback had been out the previous March, and in fact I'd written it in March 1994. Since then, I'd written two more books and set out the synopses for three more. Which is why I didn't recognise that the name she kept mentioning was that of the chief suspect in my crime book!

It is no surprise I didn't remember the fellow.

Now, though, I am going back and rereading all those books, and I'm learning that they weren't bad. It's really good to go back and discover characters and scenes I'd forgotten long ago, and to realise that the books actually work very well.

And now, in case you didn't see the last blog piece, there is a prize of two signed books and a mention for people who give me two names I can use in a book. I don't mind whether they're male or female, but they should be old-fashioned enough for me to be able to use them in my medieval stories. For more information, look here and start plugging in your names! Good luck!

**This competition has now closed, you can see who won here.**

As well as collaborating with fellow members of The Medieval Murderers, Dartmoor-based Michael Jecks is the author of thirty three novels in his best-selling Templar series. His latest, Fields of Glory will be published in June 2014 in hardback and Kindle from Simon & Schuster. Expplore more of Michaels' work at: www.michaeljecks.co.uk

24 May 2013

Michael Randall

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