(Contributed by Candice Locklee)
To what extent did your childhood in Cyprus contribute to your ambition to be a writer and historian?
Cyprus was an amazing place to live as a child. The island has the most extraordinary history. It is the birthplace of Aphrodite and Adonis. It was conquered or ruled by so many people: Mycenaeans, Assyrians, Alexander the Great, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Lusignans, Venetians. Ottomans. Its archaeological remains are very rich, and it was impossible to live there as a child (school ended at midday!) and not wander around the sunny ruins in awe of all the extraordinary cultures that have left their mark. There were temples, castles, amphitheatres, old harbours, and sleepy little one-room museums crammed full of old pottery, statues, and jewellery, much of it covered in a variety of different alphabets. It gave me a deep fascination with history, and also with language. While there, I discovered My Family and Other Animals, in which Gerald Durrell wrote of his experiences in 1935-1939 on the nearby Greek island of Corfu, and, really, 1970s Cyprus felt almost identical. Gerald Durrell became a writer, and so did his oldest brother and his sister. I always thought their lives sounded highly romantic, and it firmed up my conviction that I wanted to write.
What draws you specifically to the Knights Templar and the time of the Crusades as a subject for your books?
The crusades were one of the most singular events in Western history. They defined the medieval world for two centuries, leaving a profound mark on the East and the West. For a writer, they present immensely fertile ground for stories, as they combine the intense drama of far-flung travel and adventure with deep questions of religion and personal motivation.
The Templars, of course, took crusading a stage further, inventing themselves as warrior-monks, almost like a medieval and religious version of the French Foreign Legion. On top of all that, the Templars have now become well known thanks to writers of conspiracy mysteries. I first came across the crusades when living in Cyprus, as we often used to visit Kolossi Castle, which was owned by both the Templars and Hospitallers (at different times). It smelled wonderful: of hot air, warm stone, mimosa, and sweet grapes. I quickly fell in love with it, and have been fascinated by the crusaders ever since. Who were they? What were they doing so many miles from home? What must life have been like for them?
Could you explain the premise of The Sword of Moses for those who have not encountered your work before?
The heroine of The Sword of Moses is Dr Ava Curzon, an ex-MI6 officer who has left the world of espionage and is now on secondment from the British Museum to the National Museum of Iraq, where she is in charge of reassembling the thousands of artefacts looted during the 2003 war. The book’s blurb reads:
‘When former MI6 agent turned archaeologist Dr Ava Curzon is engaged by American intelligence to track down an African militia claiming to hold the Ark of the Covenant, she is plunged into a world where nothing is what it seems. Her breakneck descent into the shadowy realm of dark biblical magic hurls her across continents and into the opaque worlds of the Knights Templar, freemasons, occultists, and extremist neo-Nazis, pushing her mentally and physically to the limits. As the plot twists and turns across the centuries, she requires all her skills to solve a trail of ancient clues leading her inexorably towards a terrifying ritual. Taking centre stage, she faces the ultimate battle against an age-old evil she must stop at all costs.’
So, it is an adventure story that pits Ava against a vicious villain, and she has to use all her skills to unravel a series of ancient codes in order to defeat him.
Available from: Amazon, Book Depository, Barnes and Noble
The Sword of Moses seems to be a culmination of your world travels, extensive research and professional expertise as a barrister. How much did your life experience play a part in the writing of the book and did you need to conduct further research to tell the story?
I needed to do a lot of research. Although I have studied the Templars for years, and I am very familiar with a lot of the other themes in the book, I specifically set myself the task of making sure the history and details in the book were really accurate. I wanted people reading it to be able to enjoy the action and adventure, but also be able to say to their friends, “Hey, guess what, did you know that … .” I really enjoy reading a lot of the modern Templar adventures out there, but that is partly because I know where the fact ends and the fiction begins. In The Sword of Moses I wanted to use historical themes, but I was also really keen to make sure that the historical details were reliable and trustworthy.
There has been a major shift towards self-publishing in the last few years. What made you decide to self-publish The Sword of Moses and what do you consider to be the advantages of self-publishing as opposed to traditional methods?
Authors now have more choices than ever, which is great, because writers have a wide range of priorities. Some just want to hand the final pages over to their publisher and then move on to starting the next book. At the other end of the spectrum, other authors want to get involved in running their own book-production business. My own reason for going indie with The Sword of Moses is that as well as loving stories, I am also a bit of a geek about books. I am very into typography and layout. I enjoy bookbinding, stitching, and assembling books myself. With The Sword of Moses, it was a real joy to start with a blank sheet of paper and end up with a professional book, all done from my desk.
I knew from the start that it was going to take a team to do this properly, and I wanted to be involved and to learn from the others. So it was great to find Michelle Lovi, who is such a brilliant designer, and Rachel Thorn, who is a spectacular editor. My amazing wife, Delia, also takes a huge interest in my writing, and gives me endless good advice on the thousands of questions I always have. I remain immeasurably grateful to all three of them for the huge amount they contributed to the final novel. It’s a great thing to have a team you can rely on to help you go the extra mile in making it a really professional book. It was such a good team that I used them all again for my two new ghost stories, The Voivod and Suffer the Children.
So, my advice is that if you are a writer who only wants to write, then a traditional publisher’s expertise in doing the other tasks may be best. But if you have an interest in creating a physical book — in how it looks and feels — then you may find a great deal of satisfaction in rolling up your sleeves and getting into the whole business of putting the finished object into a reader’s hands. I have published with a trade publisher before, so I can see the value in both approaches.
What type of marketing techniques did you employ for The Sword of Moses and which ones did you find the most successful in promoting your book?
The key thing is that readers have to hear about new books. When it comes to putting a book out there, I don’t think there is much difference between trade publishing and indie publishing any more. In both cases, the book needs to become known via reviews in the press, in blogs, and on book sites like Amazon and Goodreads. Once the momentum builds, word gets out, friends start telling friends, and that is the best publicity of all.
How have you built and maintained your author platform?
Any way I can! I have enjoyed meeting people at book events. I have been lucky enough to speak on panels. I have done promotions. And I try and keep my online profiles active.
You maintain an online presence through your official website, social media and blogging for the Daily Telegraph. How important is an online presence in building an author platform?
Very. I have a website, which I keep updated. I also have a Twitter account, which I use pretty much daily. I keep updated pages on Facebook, Tumblr, and Pinterest. If you ask me in five years time I might give you different websites that I am active on, because social media evolves, which means authors need to as well.
Do you have any advice for writers thinking about self-publishing their books?
Give it a go! There is a huge amount of satisfaction to be gained from becoming your own publisher, although it does depend on what you are trying to do. Some projects are just better suited to trade publishing. However, if you think that you might like to give indie publishing a try, then you have nothing to lose. You will almost certainly enjoy the experience!
Lastly, could you tell us anything about the sequel to The Sword of Moses and any other current projects you are working on?
I have just published two ghost stories: The Voivod and Suffer the Children. They are in the style of M R James, whose ghost stories I have loved since childhood. His writing has a wonderfully ‘old England’ feel: a world of quiet bookishness in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The protagonists explore libraries in country houses or go on solitary holidays, only for the calm to be shattered by awful events or discoveries. M R James was a medieval historian (provost of King’s College, Cambridge and then Eton College) and his research and life in those ancient settings give his spooky tales a unique and calm antiquarian feel, quite at odds with the terrible things which then happen. They are timeless tales that I have read again and again, and it seemed like a fun idea to try and recreate his extraordinary world of gentility and terror. So those were fun little projects. Now I am back to working on the next full-length book, which is the sequel to The Sword of Moses.