Saving my Sanity!

I am indebted to my brother Clive for saving my sanity this month. 

How, you ask? Good question.

You probably know already that I have written more than the average number of novels. 33 of them in my Templar series, I’ve a Hundred Years War trilogy, a Bloody Mary series, plus several collections, novellas and other bits and pieces. However, even with over forty novels written in my own name, all published by mainstream publishers, I would be grateful for a small percentage of what Dan Brown earned from one novel.

Yeah. You guessed it.

Am I jealous of his success? You bet. He did a great job of taking the main theme of The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail, invented a professor of ancient runes (or was that Terry Pratchett?) and launched himself to super stardom.

Have I read Da Vinci Code? Um – no.

No, it’s not because I’m a snob. There are very good reasons for an author not to read books from his or her genre. First there is the risk of accidental plagiarism, whereby the author unintentionally picks up on a theme and puts it down in a story thirty years later. Yes, these things do happen. As keen readers get older, ideas for new stories can strike them, and they write the ideas down without realising that the flash of inspiration comes from the book read many years ago.

Second, there is the constant demand on time. I can read perhaps one book every two months for pleasure. The rest of the time I’m reading books I’ve been asked to review, books I have to read for research, or books from aspiring authors who want my comments. The simple fact is, when you are self-employed and a writer, the opportunities for reading the books you want to read reduce alarmingly.

I was not sent a copy of Da Vinci Code to review, so I didn’t get to read it. I did pass it in bookshops and airports, but those times I already had reading material.

See? Nothing to do with snobbishness.

So, it was with a degree of excitement that I accepted a copy of Origin, Dan Brown’s latest.

This book is only the latest outing for Dan Brown’s hero. He has been contacted by a particularly brilliant ex-student, Edmond Kirsch, who has made a fabulous fortune out of predicting the future, inventing brilliant machines and computers, and capitalising on his innate genius.

However, he has written to the Professor with an invitation. He wants his old teacher and mentor to join him in Spain to see his presentation. It is to answer the most vital, important questions known to man. Already, although the professor doesn’t know it, this rather foolish ex-student has been in touch with the heads of three key Judaic religions, Roman Catholic Bishop Antonio Valdespino, Jewish Rabbi Yehuda Köves, and Islamic Imam Syed al-Fadl, and told them that his revelations will knock all their beliefs into a cocked hat. Well, who wouldn’t?

To add insult to injury, the atheist then agrees to give the religions some time to absorb his revelations – but they soon discover he was fibbing. He’s going to announce his discovery in only a matter of days. Shocking.

Okay, so I started reading. Slowly. The trouble is, I found myself incapable of falling into the normal state of happy disbelief-suspension that is so important for a fast-paced thriller. Partly it was the way that no noun was left without its adjectival partner. The breathless rush of prose was …well, it didn’t suit my reading style. The characters were pretty basic forms of mono-dimensional stereotyping, by job, by religion or by national prejudice.

All that, of course, could have been held together by a blinding plot.

So how did my brother save my life and sanity? He gave me a book called Crisis by Frank Gardner. No, I hadn’t heard of him either. 

This book begins with a great action scene with a British spy in Colombia investigating a gang of narco terroristas. It is clear enough that the gang has a plan to avenge themselves on the countries that have started to wage war on their drug exports, and top of their list is Britain. But the spy is seen and captured.

In the absence of any clear information about how he died, beyond the fact that he was tortured, a specialist in Colombia is sought, and the Service finds Luke Carlton. He was ex-SBS and on secondment to MI-6 while he’s checked to see whether he can fit in. But he was born in Colombia, and speaks the language like a local. He’s sent.

This is a brilliant book. It’s fast-paced and well written by a BBC journalist who has been to the countries he writes about, and who has researched all the different aspects of his story in detail – not that you feel he’s preaching. He is a modern Frederick Forsythe, inventing believable, realistic characters and using every twist of his plot to bring out their natures.

At a time when we are all more concerned about rogue nations with their various weapons of Mass Destruction, this is an excellent story based on the very real threats posed by real psycopaths.

I can thoroughly recommend one of these two books – and it isn’t the Dan Brown.

And now I have finished American Gods by one of my heroes, Neil Gaiman. It’s a long book, but it is astonishing. Neil Gaiman has written many wonderful stories (I still tend to think of the best book of my 20s as being Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman). Neil has invented a story based on American life. It’s ironic, cynical, joyous and irreverent, and demonstrates Gaiman’s imaginative inventiveness to the full.

The basic idea is, that all the peoples who ended up in American brought their gods with them. Whether these were the gods of tribes from past millennia, gods of Vikings, gods of Rome, or more modern versions, they are all now vying for power (and therefore believers) in the modern digital age, with gods of electronics and communications.

I cannot do it justice in a brief review here. However, I strongly recommend it.

And now I have one book to finish writing (Templar Series, book number 33 called The Felon’s Pleader, to be published by Endeavour Ink), one book whose proofs I need to check, (Pilgrim’s War, out in February from Simon & Schuster), I have a painting I’ve been commissioned to paint (it’s a Christmas present, so it takes priority), and a book to write before the end of February (the next in my Bloody Mary series – Severn House have asked for two more) before I can crack on with the next project – which has got me really excited!

Meantime, at least now I can enjoy Jemahl Evans’s latest: This Deceitful Light. His last book, The Last Roundhead, was wonderful, and I’ve been looking forward to this on too.

Apologies. I would have a picture of Origin, but I’ve already disposed of the book; likewise, I would have a photo of Crisis, but it’s … well, it’s been tidied away somewhere. So instead, I’ve used some photos of my Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy.

Keep warm!

15 Responses to “Saving my Sanity!”
  1. Try this one on the Jecks brotherhood. ‘A Very British Scandal’ by John Preston. It reads like fiction but it ain’t. It’s a detailed account of the Jeremy Thorpe affair, which probably means very little to anyone under 40, but which gave birth to one of the great political slogans … or it would have been if anyone had possessed the balls to use it: ‘Vote Liberal or we’ll shoot your dog.’

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Moira Ford says:

    You are still my favourite author,I don’t like Dan Brown’s tosh.


  3. Lindsey Russell says:

    You’re not alone in being unimpressed with Dan Brown – had to see what all the hype was about with ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and gave up before page 50. I found ‘The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’ far more enjoyable, and the other titles by its authors’ – can’t recall the titles as they are all boxed up for a house move that fell through.

    Didn’t I tell you – from the size of her paws – your hound was going to be big? Let me revise that – she’s huge! I’m loving your pics of her, she’s gorgeous.


  4. Old Trooper says:

    Don’t have a fondness for Brown’s writing. I will leave it at that. I hope to make it into 2018 to read your forthcoming titles. I trust that they will do well!


  5. Jack Eason says:

    What’s the betting michael that Dan Brown’s offering tops the sales charts? ;)


  6. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    The latest from Michael. ;)


  7. Jack Eason says:

    The one thing I have always been concious of when creating a story is to never ever borrow from someone else’s work. That way everything I’ve written to date is unique. It’s not easy by any means. Whether they realise it or not, far too many writers these days continually borrow from one another…


    • Absolutely, but if you’ve read something forty years ago, it is so easy for an idea to appear in your head, and for you to think that it’s new and fresh, not realising it was a book you read. I know I run that risk!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jack Eason says:

        We all do…


      • Lindsey Russell says:

        What is worse is when you write something then a few months later buy the latest book by one of your favourite authors (so not published when you wrote your piece) only to find out your sub-plot is very similar to their sub-plot. I don’t worry about borrowing someone else’s work when others are pinching my ideas from out of my head! Seems there is nothing NEW under the sun.


  8. isoltblog says:

    I really like this idea of adding a review of a book you really enjoy and would recommend if the original book up for review is a let down.
    Kind of a if you hoped you’d enjoy this, read this instead :)


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