There are some weeks when the words flow and hum. At such times, it seems as though all an author has to do is sit at his desk and the words wash through him like a river. This week hasn't been one of them.
It's a strange thing for a self-employed scribbler to say, but while there are attractions to working from home - my commute is extremely short, my work clothes rarely require a tie, and with my laptop, I can sit in the sun to type - but there are advantages to going to work in an office. There is the change of scenery. There is central heating, and other people with whom to chat around the coffee machine. Oh, and there is a coffee machine. As I used to have here, in my house.
But on Saturday, the coffee stopped flowing. My excellent, ancient Gaggia coffee dispenser didn't. Dispense, I mean. Whereas in the past it used to reliably grind beans, clunk very loudly, and then hiss as it presented me with a perfect espresso, now all it does is lurk sullenly in the corner of the room. It knows it's on the way to the dump. The electronics are shot, the bean grinders have worn through their bearings, and now the brewing unit has graunched to a halt.
I shouldn't complain: it's made me about 10,000 cups of coffee, and since each coffee has cost me roughly 16 pence, it has been about one tenth the price of a Starbucks fix. Not a bad investment.
So, my coffee machine has broken. An author without coffee. How bad can life be? Things are worse at sea, as my mother never tired of informing me. I never saw the relevance. Since I get seasick stepping over a puddle, I was never likely to go and find out how much worse things could get mid-Atlantic.
But yes, it's a pain to do without coffee. I am not by any means a caffeine addict, but I do like a couple of shots of espresso during the day. However, it's not the fact of no coffee that was difficult this week. It was the fact that something had to be done about it.
It is the conundrum at the heart of self-employment: basically. my wife and I are the two partners in our business. If something needs to be done, it is we two who must do it. So, we had to research a replacement on the internet. We had to sort out what sort of machine, then look up suppliers, checking that the new machine had all the little details we need, that it would work as we wanted. And to find out all those little details took an entire day. In the cold, because sadly our oil delivery was late, too. So on Sunday, we lost central heating, hot water, and the ability to cook. Thank God for understanding neighbours and electric ovens … but I digress.
We now have a coffee machine on order (after a day's bleary-eyed, shivery staring at a screen full of pictures of delicious coffees, it came down to the early evening muttered curse and a "Look, I've already wasted a day on this ruddy machine! Let's just buy one of them!" and ordering the one that looked workable). With luck it will arrive just as I deliver the latest three proofs to my publisher.
Did I mention that I had proofs to read and correct as well? All due back on Monday. You'll have seen the photo of them in last week's blog.
But in addition to the proofs, there are the other little bits and pieces of work.
A short email with new book covers to approve; two phone calls from the agent, leading to an urgent flurry of activity as I hunted down the paperwork he needed, and more conversations that led on from their discovery. Then there were the business meetings, with a pleasant fellow coming to see how to help us with our social media. If he could tell me how to get on without it, I'd be happier, to be honest! Then there were urgent discussions about foreign rights, and issues about other contracts, and emails asking me to give talks.
One was interesting: I've been invited to speak at a meeting of the Templar Heritage Trust and the Grand Priory of Knights Templar in England and Wales. They are great charitable organisations, and it will be a pleasure to give a talk to them - but just sorting out the cost of travelling to the meeting took up plenty of time.
And as well as all this, I know that soon I will have editorial comments on next year's book to work on, and I still have a short story, a novella and a further novel to write. And probably somewhere in the region of twenty more proofs of titles from my backlist to work through.
At least I managed to finish reading two books from aspiring authors (don't get ideas, I don't do that very often) and I had an auction in aid of a charity, selling three of my books. It was a relief to take Saturday off, and go to Exeter to join in the Morris Day of Dance, hosted by Great Western Morris. I danced all day with my side, Tinner's, and had a great time. My muscles are still complaining.
To be quite honest, all I want to do now is pack a rucksack and go out on the moors for a few days. Sadly, I need to get the outlines of the short story and novella mapped out first. And the difficulty for an author is, getting those ideas down.
Which is rather good. Because next week I will be able to start describing how I brainstorm and get rough outlines of stories ready to write. Mind you next week I also go back to Exeter University with the Royal Literary Fund to help students write their dissertations and essays. It's going to be busy again!
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