The Templar’s Penance

There are times when I put up a video on my YouTube channel and soon get a series of questions that I hadn’t thought of at the time. So, if you want to see the original video, you can find it here – and thanks to Hans van der Boom for his questions. Apologies for not speaking about the points you wanted mentioned, and I’m glad to add to the video here.

Okay. So more about Templar’s Penance.

First, Hans, you asked where the idea came from for the book. I knew I had another story to write following on from MAD MONK OF GIDLEIGH, but it was hard to think of a new tale. And I was struck by some issues: first, I was determined that the series would never become too predictable. I wanted each book to stand out distinctly from its predecessor and subsequent stories – I recall hearing of an author described as writing one story several times and I did not want to be accused of that! Second, I wanted stories that would show the development of my characters and their families. I didn’t want to write about men and women who were preserved in aspic, like the (excellent) Ed McBain series, but who changed and grew over time. Third, I was convinced that most readers want to learn more about the time and how people actually lived. And most people went on pilgrimage.

I actually had the very first idea for that book while sitting in Crediton’s church. I was listening to my wife’s choir singing Fauré’s Requiem, and with the first sweep of the music, I suddenly had a vivid picture in my mind of a group of bedraggled pilgrims walking towards a main pilgrim site, when on the hillside above them there appears a group of mercenaries. These men spring upon the pilgrims, riding down the slope at full gallop and slaughtering their screaming, fleeing victims.

Stories sometimes come to me like this. It is quite common that a I’ll have a start point that just occurs to me without consciously having tried to find one. Occasionally, of course, nothing appears to me at all and the initial writing is a damn hard slog, but with books like Templar’s Penance, it’s a joy. I had a definite start point for the writing, I had a general theme (pilgrimage) and the rest was down to basic research.

The main part of the research for me was the visit to a Templar town in Portugal. I was there on holiday in about 2002, and while there my family and I travelled for a few hours to the little town of Tomar. It’s a lovely little place, and then was still almost entirely unspoiled. Things have changed hugely in Portugal in recent years: the currency unification to the Euro, the injection of billions from German banks, the construction of vast holiday complexes all along the coast, have changed Portugal completely. Even in 2002 it was clear that there was nowhere on the coast that wasn’t being filled in with brick and concrete or golf courses. But Tomar was different. It was away from the coast, and the buildings were safe.

Entry was minimal. In fact we thought the guide had made a mistake and moved the decimal point up. But no, it really was that cheap, less than one pound to get in and see the whole place.

The thing about the old Templar churches was, they were not cruciform like normal churches, but circular. It’s said that they had to have high doors so that the knights could enter on horseback for blessings and certain services, but I think that’s twaddle. More likely they wanted a chamber that would elevate their souls by being so tall that any man would be tempted to look up towards heaven. In any case, they were definitely circular. Why? Because the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon wanted to emulate the appearance of the great Temple itself, from which they took their name.

Sadly, while writing the book I didn’t have the funds to allow me to go to Spain to research the pilgrim paths, much though I would have really liked to. The idea of striding along the old paths trodden for centuries by so many pilgrims, is hugely appealing. Sadly, I have never had the time, so instead I was forced to resort to the internet and books. One book I found very informative was SPANISH PILGRIMAGE by Robin Hanbury-Tenison. This tells, in photos and writing, of a journey he made on horseback along these very same paths. It’s not a new book (my copy is very dog-eared), but that’s always a good thing. You can learn more how the paths and roads would have looked in medieval times from books written and photographed in the 60s and 70s than you can from books written more recently, with tower blocks and housing estates filling in all the ancient fields and old paths. DSC_0162

The book was written largely because of the first scene I describe above, but it fitted in well with the storyline in MAD MONK OF GIDLEIGH, which led me to think that an honourable man like Baldwin would want to make some form of penitential trip. The idea of fitting Simon and Baldwin out for a journey of that magnitude was very appealing. At first I had the idea that MAD MONK, PENANCE and one more would make a brilliant mini-series of three in the middle of the main Templar series, but then I had an idea for a fourth book, TOLLS OF DEATH, which added to the initial three that was supposed to end with OUTLAWS OF ENNOR. So the trilogy became a quartet, and I think became all the more strong for that. Still, with the next story, BUTCHER OF ST PETER’S, I was firmly back in Devon, with a series of murders set in Exeter.

But that’s a whole different story!

I hope this has filled in the gaps a little, Hans. Do please let me know with a comment or two if you have any other questions. I’ll be delighted to help.

And now, back to the synopsis for the next book!

And for those who want something else to look at:



2 Responses to “The Templar’s Penance”
  1. Hans van der Boom says:

    Captain, my Captain :) You went beyond the call of duty. Thank you for the additional information. If I may be so bold; many of you uhm… writerly types may find it hard to imagine how interested your readers are to learn about small things and (almost) private things that help lead to the birth of your stories and books. It may sound funny but, apart from the things you told us about Penance in the blogpost, I most loved the fact that you told us that the creative idea for it came when you listened to your wife’s choir in Crediton Church. Now that may add nothing directly to the deeper understanding of the book but it does give the reader a glimpse in the author’s life and the almost secret and mystic moment of the birth of a book (while I know very well most of it is plain hard work). Though I hope to be one many of thousands of readers, reading things like that make me feel special, like I discovered something hitherto unknown :) Maybe I am rambling but things like that are part of what makes history and especially genealogy so ‘detective like’ addictive! And for me to hear things and read things not explained or told in introductions, prologues, appendice or afterwords… well, I just love that stuff. Thank you!


    • No problem, Hans! As I said on Facebook, it’s just really good to know that the blogs and videos are winning a lot of interested people and friends. I hope you carry on watching, and do please let me know when I don’t come up with the goods. It’s only by viewers telling me that I realise I’ve done things wrong!


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