The Project

There are some years that start well, others that don’t start so well. This one’s not been good. We always knew that would start badly, though. I lost a very dear friend, Andy Setchell. What with that and my daughter going through the horrors of her mock GCSE exams, YouTube and my blogging activities have been pretty dramatically curtailed. Apologies for that.

However, now I’m back – and with a vengeance, as you might say.

Now available as paperback too!

Now available as paperback too!

Act of Vengeance came out as an ebook a while ago, but I’ve reissued it through Endeavour Press this year, which means you can also acquire it as a paperback novel. Many people expressed an interest in this (and I did have all their emails, but sadly I’ve had three computer failures since then, and lost all of them) and I hope that this very late addition to the Jecks oeuvre will appeal still! Oh, and while I’m on the subject, if you liked the idea of my short stories, you can buy them repackaged now, too. No On Can Hear You Scream and For the Love of Old Bones are on Kindle and will shortly be available as paperbacks too. No One Can Hear You Scream

If not, you also have the excitement of Rebellion’s Message, my first Jack Blackjack book with Severn House, which is published in April, my parts in the Detection Club’s excellent The Sinking Admiral from HarperCollins in May, and the third of my Vintener Series, Blood of the Innocents, in August from Simon and Schuster. That’s not enough for you? Then you will be glad to hear that there are other books on their way, too.


An excellent story from a selection of wonderful writers. And me!

An excellent story from a selection of wonderful writers. And me!

However, this blog isn’t about any of them. This is about my method of writing.

Last year I had three major computer failures, as I’ve said, and they necessitated a degree of rethinking of how I work. I was careful always to back up my data, careful to store data off site, and basically just behaved like an OCD and paranoid author should. And I still lost tons of important data. Some were photos (important ones of the family), some were essential memos and emails from friends when I was the Chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association, and I also lost a lot of notes of old books. Luckily most of my most essential research and records of old books were held off-site in the cloud, but that didn’t protect me from headaches – such as, for example, trying to find the collections of short stories to make up No One Can Hear You Scream. They were all lost.

Back in the last century, I met with the great Laurence Block when he turned up unexpectedly at a CWA dinner in London. He was immediately wrestled to the floor and persuaded to join the Association. Later, over drinks, he told me that he had returned from a holiday only recently, during which he had written a book using an admirable tool known as a typewriter. He laughed about this machine, and I found myself screwing up my face in horror at the thought. The very idea of carrying paper, when a chap could be lugging a lightweight laptop struck me as crazy. He didn’t care. In fact he said he intended going back to real basics and using a pencil and paper for his next novel.

forthelove22 (1)

That memory came back to me last year. I contacted some people, and I was staggered to find that many people were prepared to help.

The first folks I spoke to were the wonderful guys at Cult Pens. These are a small company based in Devon (I like to support local businesses when possible). The Walkers, who own the business, were incredibly supportive and helpful, and they showed me a trio of superb manufacturers who might help.

Diamine, with incredible generosity, sent me one of each of their colours of ink. That may not sound much, but when I say that it involved 106 bottles of ink, you’ll get to appreciate their kindness. With these I thought I could write a book using a different colour every day. That way I can assess the way I am writing, I have a quick reference to show progress, and, more important, I keep my own interest going because of having all those luscious colours.

Full range of Diamine’s regular inks

I spoke to the  wonderful firm Atoma next. Atoma is a Belgian company which makes superb stationery and pads. The pads have the brilliant advantage that each page is held in place by a ring, but there is no wire binding or clip, only a series of rings that hold the paper because of the fat rim, compared with the slim centre section. With this I can add pages in the middle, I can remove pages, replace them, insert smaller pages with notes – in short, use it as flexibly as I wish. Atoma not only gave me a gorgeous red leather A4 pad made by Ruitertassen for me to use as my main working file, they also gave me reams of paper to go with it.

Black leather Atoma

Black leather Atoma

Finally, I managed to speak to a new best friend. I’ve decided this because Dante del Vecchio, the owner of Visconti pens, is such an enthusiastic, keen proponent of writing and writing tools. I have used one of Dante’s pens for years now. It is a Homo Sapiens pen, made from lava from Mount Etna, with bronze fittings, and I’ve put a lot of ink through it. However, as I explained to Dante, if I were to write a book, I would have to have a window so that I could see the amount of ink left in it, and the lava leaves a lot to be desired in terms of visibility.

A short while later, I received a new pen. This one-off is a Homo Sapiens again, but instead of a metal ring, there is now a clear acrylic window. In the main barrel, there’s also a slot cut so that the user can see right through the pen and view exactly how much ink is left in it. However, there’s another twist to this beautiful pen. Instead of the standard “Powerfiller”, which is a vacuum system, this pen has Dante’s twin reservoir system. That means it will take a vast amount of ink. More than I can use in a day of solid writing (although I have got close to using it in one sitting). The main thing is, however, this pen has one of the Visconti fine Palladium nibs which write like an absolute dream.

Lovely new Homo Sapiens and my leather writing desk

Lovely new Homo Sapiens and my leather writing desk

The only other item I need is the writing board. I do not want to be tied to a desk or table, so I decided I needed a solid surface a little larger than a A4 so that I could write in the garden, in the sitting room, anywhere. That, however, was my own invention. I spoke to a good friend in the village, Matthew Payne, who happens to be a leather working expert (he’s a master bridle maker), and he advised on making a leather board. It works superbly well for me.

So, there you are. My next book is being written in ink, using Diamine ink, a Visconti pen and Atoma’s excellent notepad systems. And so far, I’ve found it a wonderful experience. Without the computer to distract me, I’m writing more and faster. Without notifications and tweets, I’m finding my concentration is much better for longer periods, and the fact that I can pick up my leather lap-desk and move from one room to another as the mood takes me, means I am getting more writing done.

I hope to tweet daily, write blog updates weekly, and also film YouTube videos as I progress. I’ll be talking about developing the story, about my characters, about my locations, and how the story develops, as I get the chance. And then, with luck, I will be continuing to write using a pen and paper. After all, it is a great deal more attractive to have an actual manuscript rather than a printed sheaf of papers at the end of the project!

And apart from all this, what else is happening in the world of Jecks? Well, I’ve finished another manuscript that’s being read by the agent, I’m judging the Paddon Award for Exeter University this week (a very hard job, with a real variety of different writings and styles); I’m teaching at the Swanwick Literary Festival again in August, and in October I’ll be the chairman of judges for the excellent Impress Prize from Impress Books. That was very hard work last year, with an incredible standard. I look forward to headaches over that one again this year, desperately trying to pick the best work from a quality shortlist.

So, apologies for the delay in updating things, but I hope you’ll find the writing project to be interesting as I go through things. Meanwhile, here are some more photos, and I hope you have a great week._GMH4623

My lovely Homo Sapiens designed for writers

My lovely Homo Sapiens designed for writers – clear window in the barrel of the pen, and a clear section below the cap, so I can see how much ink there is left. Gorgeous balance and feel, and the material is about indestructible.

25 Responses to “The Project”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    Nice to know I’m not the only one still tilting at windmills Michael :)


  2. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    More from Michael :)


  3. Lindsey Russell says:

    Hi, Michael. Good to see you back on track. I had to take some years out from writing to care for my mother and on returning to it found I couldn’t ‘write’ on the computer and took to pen and paper – but cheap biros I’m afraid and bog standard lined A4 pads. Do you type up what you have written to the computer? I tend to write best in the evening and type it up the next day.

    Loving the photos of your walks but aren’t you worried some nutter will come speeding round the bend? Or do your hounds know to leap in the hedge when they hear traffic?


    • Luckily these roads are quiet enough I don’t have to worry. You can hear cars coming from a way off and call the dogs back. On the pen, I tend to work better afternoon and evening, so I’m starting to type up in the morning, and then writing new afternoon and night. I do have to type, though. The editors wouldn’t accept handwritten nowadays. It does add a separate job, but I think it’s worth it. I hope so, anyway!


  4. cybaea says:

    Welcome back; glad to have you back in good form.
    Now just promise me you won’t spill water on those lovely handwritten pages: that would be the analogue equivalent of a hard disk failure.
    I like the Atoma system as well and I scan my pages using a bulk sheet feeder scanner (I have an all-in-one printer that does it). Don’t forget to store the scanned files in the cloud…
    Wishing you every success. May your pens be smooth and your inks flow well.
    (And if Visconti ever decides to sell what looks like a Writers Edition Homo Sapiens Dark Ages then I’d like to be first in the queue.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Didn’t realise Cult Pens was local to you! Thanks for the update! Can’t wait to see photos of your draft as you switch between inks. Or maybe you won’t post any. Would be fun to see though. On and somewhat related note, I found myself sitting next to a fellow fountain pen user the other day. Turns out she was using diamine ink, imperial purple just like me!


  6. Fascinating! These inks and pens are news to me. I do write all my first drafts with pen on paper, but the pens are cheap ballpoints and the paper is usually scrap I salvage from my workplace. First drafting in longhand is definitely the way to go: no distractions as you say, and no fear of losing your work in a computer failure. And unlike a Word document, the first thing you see when you go back to the work is the spot where you left off, so you’re not tempted to fiddle with the beginning rather than moving forward.


  7. Kay Samuelson says:

    First, I am thrilled to hear that your books of short stories will soon be available in paperbacks, and I look forward to “Act of Vengeance” and “Innocent Blood”, too. I will have to wait a little longer, of course, since I live in the US. I loved reading about your pen, since I am one of the old dinosaurs left who learned shorthand 55 years ago. I used a decent fountain pen, much better than a ball point. Contrary to popular belief that shorthand is dead, I used it until I retired in 2008. European employers preferred to dictate to a live person, and US employers discovered it was very handy to have someone take verbatim notes of board meetings, etc.

    I wish you all the best, and I am looking forward to more of your writing.


  8. dgkaye says:

    It seems this start to 2016 hasn’t been too kind to quite a few of us. I know how trying it can be starting to get back to our regimented writing. Welcome back. :)


  9. ThemisAthena says:

    Hello Michael, I‘ve just come across this post following a link at the bottom of a more recent one. Just curious: is this still the method you use?

    (I‘m a big fan of the Knights Templar and Medieval Murderers series, btw.)


    • Hi, Themis,
      I’m afraid not. I really couldn’t do it. I tried really hard for months to get the amount of work I needed to do to get the words on paper, but somehow it didn’t function for me. There were a number of issues, and all were mental. For example, when I tried to evaluate how much work I had achieved in a day, I just couldn’t. The number of words per page didn’t see to equate to the effort put it. And there were so many occasions when I had to add bits in the middle of pages, that it made me really struggle to keep the flow going. I love the pen and the way it works, but I cannot write an entire novel with one.
      Instead, I have returned to keyboards. I have the main Apple iMac here (which I am typing on for this), with a Keychron keyboard – I can’t use the Apple slimline things. I need keys which I can feel move under my fingers, and which have a little click as they actuate. I also use an Astrohaus Freewrite, which I find a marvellous tool for when I need to think deeply about a scene, when I need to get away from email and Twitter, and when I just want to move away from my desk to a more comfy chair. It’s replaced my laptops because it is so much more comfortable to use.
      So, sadly, after all the effort of trying to get the implements ready to hand write a novel, I basically failed, sadly!
      Thanks for the comments

      Liked by 1 person

      • ThemisAthena says:

        Hello Mike,

        Thanks for writing back so quickly … and in such detail!

        I’d been curious because I had wondered to what extent a setup allowing you to insert extra pages as needed might help in the drafting and editing process — just because of the extra bits of text that may end up having to go into the middle of a page, or passages that might need to be replaced. I hadn’t even thought of word counting!

        Also, I didn’t know about Astrohaus; they do look like useful tools — like a cross breed between a small laptop and a typewriter (read: a writing machine with a screen and text editing ability, but without access to the internet)? How do you transfer the text composed on your Freewrite into the main document — by USB stick / connection?

        Apologies for being nosy.


        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi, Themis – really sorry, I didn’t see your comment here!
        To answer your question about the Freewrite, there are several ways to get text from it to my computer.
        First – simply plug it into the computer. The Freewrite becomes an extra drive to upload work (although it’s only one-way);
        second – Astrohaus has a cloud service which allows the Freewrite to upload to their servers. You can log in and pull the text in from there;
        third – their servers can also upload to your cloud server of choice. In my case it’s Dropbox, which works as an extra disc drive on my Apple, so all I tend to do is go to my word processing software and import from that drive. It’s that easy.
        Sorry to take so long. I had Covid to add to my difficulties in the summer, and what with that, the failure of my computer, and the loss of most of my data, it’s been an “interesting” year!

        Liked by 1 person

      • ThemisAthena says:

        Thank you for getting back to this post, Mike; I truly appreciate it — COVID or not! The Freewrite does look like a great tool.

        I saw your post on getting COVID; I hope you’re quite recovered at this point … it’s the kind of thing I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, much less on a writer whose books I enjoy. And wasn’t it also earlier this year that you shared the loss of your brother? I was truly sorry to read about that, and at the same time impressed with the effort of going halfway around the world to be able to say goodbye.

        Hopefully next year will be “interesting” only in the right ways — no death in the family, no data loss (oh, the horror), no further encounters with the pandemic, but instead, success with the books you’re working on and, perhaps most of all, as much continued enjoyment in your writing as you’re giving to your readers! (Ooops, how did this morph into a New Year’s or birthday message all of a sudden? Anyway …)


      • The Freewrite does have access to the internet. As I type, it is constantly backing up to cloud storage via wifi. The cloud storage is connected to my Dropbox account, which is connected to my Apple as an additional drive, so when I want to edit, I go to my Apple and pull the text into Scrivener or Nisus Writer Pro, whichever software package I am using at the time (I use Scrivener for all my books, but tend to use Nisus for general correspondence and editing). It’s a real flexible device, but if you want to know more, I’ve reviewed it here: and here: – and elsewhere on YouTube, if you’re really keen!
        Hope that helps !


  10. The Freewrite does have access to the internet. As I type, it is constantly backing up to cloud storage via wifi. The cloud storage is connected to my Dropbox account, which is connected to my Apple as an additional drive, so when I want to edit, I go to my Apple and pull the text into Scrivener or Nisus Writer Pro, whichever software package I am using at the time (I use Scrivener for all my books, but tend to use Nisus for general correspondence and editing). It’s a real flexible device, but if you want to know more, I’ve reviewed it here: and here: – and elsewhere on YouTube, if you’re really keen!
    Hope that helps !

    Liked by 1 person

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