Interview ~ The Templar Brotherhood by James Becker

Is there something on your bookshelves we’d be surprised to find there?

Yes – a keyring with a dragon on it. My wife has always believed that there’s something in the ancient Japanese art of feng shui, and after what happened about 15 years ago, I think she might be right. I’d written my first novel and I’d been trying to find a literary agent to take me on, but with no success. The old joke is that many writers can paper their study with the rejection slips they’ve received. Well, I could do the downstairs hall and most of the way up the staircase as well.

Then we moved house, but before we did she carried out a kind of amateur reading and analysis of the house we’d chosen. The move, she said, was in the right direction, and the room she’d chosen for me to use as a study fitted well – I would have my back to the mountain (we live in the mountainous Principality of Andorra in the eastern Pyrenees), and running water would be in front of me, all that kind of thing. She even equipped my desk with a dragon ornament, a powerful feng shui symbol. All harmless nonsense, you might think.

Well, maybe. Or maybe not. Within weeks of making this move, and without changing anything about my books or the proposal I was sending out, I had offers of representation from two major London agents. I signed with the man I felt most comfortable with, and I’ve never regretted my choice for a moment. I now have had about 20 books commercially published, and a bunch more as ebooks, all written under about 8 noms de plume because they’re in different genres. But the dragon stays where I can see it, just in case!

Tell me a funny/odd/interesting anecdote from a reading, or book signing.

I did a kind of lecture tour a few years ago, mainly visiting libraries and talking about writing, how to get published and that sort of thing. Most of the talks were quite well attended, and in one town in northern England the streets around the library were packed. Hundreds of young people were there, all clearly waiting for something, and there was a real sense of expectation in the air. I was quite concerned that there wouldn’t be enough room for all of them in the building.

But I needn’t have worried. The only person in the library when I arrived was the librarian. And nothing changed as the start time came and then went. A brief investigation revealed that the library’s adverts for the event had listed the wrong date, and the crowds outside had been waiting for the arrival of a popular rock group that was going to perform in a concert hall a short distance down the road.

Not, as they say, my finest hour. The librarian and I drank coffee and talked about books for a while, and then we went our separate ways. I haven’t been back there since.

What book are you reading right now, and why?

XD Operations by C C H Brazier. One of my alter egos is Max Adams, and I wrote a couple of World War Two thrillers for Macmillan using that name. My ebook publishers in Britain obtained the electronic rights to these books a short while ago, and they’ve proved quite popular as Kindle downloads. In response, they asked if I could write a third novel. The first two books were based on little known but real events – the French invasion of the Saar region of Germany in September 1939, and the destruction of Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium in May 1940 – and the book I’m writing now follows the same pattern, being firmly fact-based.

Hardly anybody is aware that in the same month, May 1940, a group of Territorial Army soldiers (meaning they were part-timers, weekend warriors) were sent over to Holland to destroy massive oil stocks before the advancing German Army could seize them. They did that very successfully in Amsterdam and in Rotterdam, and then went on to do the same thing in France, on the banks of the River Seine near Le Havre, while the retreat of the Allied armies across Europe and the chaos of Dunkirk were dominating the conflict.

These were known as XD operations, and the book by C C H Brazier is the only authoritative description of these events that I have been able to find. It’s a very valuable source of information for me.

Is there a book you re-read over and over?

Actually, there are several. I think J R R Tolkien was one of the finest writers of the last century, and I have copies of The Lord Of The Rings on my tablet and in my bookcase, and I re-read it quite often. For comic relief, Puckoon by Spike Milligan takes some beating, but it helps if you‘re familiar with Ireland and the Irish. Especially with the Irish. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams is always a joy, for several different reasons. Coming more up to date, I’ve enjoyed every Bill Bryson book I’ve ever read, and particularly A Short History Of Nearly Everything, because it’s one of the clearest explanations I’ve ever read of how we – that’s the entire universe as well as the various life-forms that live in it – came to exist at all. I’ve read all these several times, and I have audiobook versions of some of them as well.

What book have you recommended most recently?

I rarely if ever recommend books, because everyone’s reading habits are different. A good friend is enthralled by biographies, and frequently offers me books that he has found fascinating. The trouble is that I never have the slightest interest in the life of whoever it is that the book describes, so I never read them. I have enough trouble sorting out my life without reading about someone else’s problems.

It’s the same story with novels. Another friend told me a few years ago that a very popular thriller by an American author (you might be able to guess who I’m talking about and which book) was the best novel he had ever read. So I read it too. In my opinion, it was badly written, borderline illiterate and barely publishable, but that didn’t stop it selling countless millions of copies around the world. I’m not saying I was right, or that he was, but it is interesting that one book should have two such different impacts. So I don’t normally recommend any books, unless I’m asked directly to suggest a book dealing with a particular subject. The only exception is the book I mention in my answer to the next question.


What book do you feel everyone should read?

Well, all of my books, obviously. I always suggest that people should buy several copies of each, just in case any get mislaid, and having a good stock means they can hand them out to friends as well. I keep using that line, but it never actually works.

Seriously, I have always been interested in history, and in particular some of the problems with the accepted dating of ancient history and OOPOs – Out Of Place Objects – meaning things that have been found where they shouldn’t be, and what archaeologists do about them when they do turn up.

In a surprising number of cases, datable objects like bones have been uncovered in the wrong layer of strata, human remains being found in layers millennia older than archaeologists will accept. Their response in these cases is always the same: when confronted with evidence that refutes the accepted timeline, archaeologists ignore the new evidence. If possible, they ignore the evidence and do their best to vilify and destroy the reputation of the person who found it. In one case, a reputable scientist was hounded out of his job and professionally humiliated for the ‘crime’ of discovering irrefutable evidence that man had reached continental America much, much earlier than the status quo claimed.

The book that describes many of these events in some detail is The Hidden History Of The Human Race by Michael Cremo and Richard Thompson, and I think everyone should read it. Ancient history is nothing like as cut and dried as most people think it is. There are numerous related subjects that are outside the scope of this book, like the problems with dating the Sphinx enclosure in Egypt – it’s much, much older than Egyptologists claim, and that can be proven beyond any doubt by both geology and meteorology – and even the purpose of the pyramids situated there, because they certainly weren’t tombs. We’re surrounded by ancient mysteries in this world, and that book is a good start if you want to find out more about this subject.

What is your favorite quote?

‘Life is not a rehearsal.’ This might have been coined by the actor Michael Caine, but there are other claimants. We are here on this planet exactly once, and that means you only get the one chance to do whatever it is that you want or need to do. I think the saddest thing would be to lie on your deathbed, look back at your life and say ‘I wish I’d done that when I had the opportunity’. I’ve always believed that you should get out there and just do it. Take advantage of each and every opportunity that comes your way. Don’t look back, and don’t regret what you’ve done. Just move on.

Is there anything in your book you’d go back and change?

No. Hopefully I made all the changes necessary when I was editing it. Once the work is finished, completely finished, tinkering with it is usually a very bad idea, because anything you do change might well interrupt the flow of the narrative. And, practically speaking, once you get to the stage of printing the book, it’s far too late to do anything to it.

What inspired your last book?

The obvious answer is an advance and a signed contract, but that’s only a part of the story. I’ve always had a real interest in the Knights Templar, and when I had the chance to write a trilogy about the order I was very keen to get stuck into it. Even today, there are more questions than answers about the Templars.

Their rise was meteoric, by the standards of the day; they became richer than most countries in Europe; they were almost certainly the custodians of the Ark of the Covenant, at least for a time, as is witnessed in stone at Chartres Cathedral in France, and they were betrayed by a corrupt and bankrupt king and a pope who was that king’s creature. And, just as enduringly interesting, their vast treasure was never found, or their archive of land deeds that listed their huge holdings in Europe, and only a mere handful of Templar knights were arrested when the order was purged. Where did the others go, and what happened to their wealth? It was amazingly fertile ground for any writer.

Do you write as you go, or do you have the book all planned out from page 1?

There’s an old expression that there are tree writers and wood writers. Nothing to do with the tools of the trade, but just a reference to the way writers work. A tree writer sees the book as a tree. He can see everything about it, all the way from the roots through the trunk up to the individual leaves on the ends of the branches. He maps out every plot turn and twist, all the important bits of dialogue, and exactly what each character looks like and how he or she behaves.

A wood writer sees a book as more like a wood, as a bit of a forest. He has a good idea how it starts – where he walks into the wood – and where it’s going to end – where he emerges from the wood at the other side. But he has no clue what’s going to happen in between these two points. That’s me. My view is that if the writer has no idea what’s going to happen next, nor has anyone else, so that should keep the reader guessing. That’s why I really dislike writing synopses, and every time I send one to my editor, I tell him that it’s not a roadmap, more like a statement of intent, and that the finished product will be very different. And hopefully better.

What is your view on self-publishing?

I’m all for it, but with reservations. That sounds like a contradiction, but it really isn’t. The problem for every aspiring writer is that he or she has to get past the gatekeepers, the literary agents, to achieve publication. That, at least, was the situation before Amazon lumbered onto the scene and introduced the Kindle. Overnight, it seemed, the publishing landscape underwent a seismic shift. Suddenly, anyone could publish anything, and an awful lot of people did just that, with the inevitable result that books which were by any definition completely unpublishable because they were so bad were published.

The literary agents had always performed a vital service – they ensured that any book sent to a publisher was of a commercial standard – and once the agents were bypassed, anything at all could make it onto Amazon’s electronic shelves. So I’m all in favour of people publishing their own work, because I know better than most how difficult it is to find a literary agent to take on a new and untried writer. But my caveat is that they need to be able to write proper English (or whatever their chosen language is) and know about punctuation and spelling. Things like the difference between its and it’s, why ‘he was sat’ is illiterate, and why nothing can ever ‘comprise of’ something. And they should get their facts straight, and not try and silence revolvers (because it’s impossible) or get surveillance satellites to hover over one spot and read car numbers plates (both are also impossible). And if they can create characters who aren’t obviously made out of cardboard and they can plot a decent story, so much the better.

What is your favorite part of the writing/publishing process?

I’m a bit odd about this. Most authors I’ve talked with really dislike editing their finished book. Their view is that they’ve written the damn thing, lived with it for months or years in some cases, and they never want to see it again until they walk into their local bookshop and there it is in the middle of the biggest window. They hope.

I actually enjoy editing, reading and re-reading the book several times and trying to hone and trim and clip away at the words until the text reads as well as it possibly could. At least in my opinion. I know perfectly well that my editor will find stuff that I’ve missed, and then the copy-editor will savage the thing all over again, but I really believe that the editing process is almost as important as the writing itself. And I always enjoy it.

What was your favorite book when you were a child/teen?

I can’t remember what I read as a child, but when I was a teenager I got very interested in science fiction, and I can still remember reading Murray Leinster’s novel The Wailing Asteroid, because I’m slightly ashamed to say that it gave me mild nightmares. Though when I re-read the book a year or so ago I couldn’t identify what could possibly have bothered my impressionable teenaged brain about it.

I went on to devour most of Arthur C Clarke’s output, and I always had the greatest respect for him as a writer because he was first and foremost a scientist, and a remarkable number of his ‘fictional’ ideas are now an integral part of our world. Just one example: every time you watch a satellite TV channel, the bird that’s beaming the images and sounds to your dish is in a geostationary orbit, also known as a Clarke Orbit, because he was the man who first suggested doing something like that.

What's one piece of advice you would give aspiring authors?

Get it out there. No manuscript ever written has been sold while lying in the bottom drawer of a desk or in the electronic bottom drawer of a computer’s hard disk. If you are serious about getting published commercially, you have to make sure your material is seen by literary agents, and that means sending copies of it out, getting a flock of rejection slips in the mail, and then sending it out all over again.

If none of them is interested, then get your material assessed by somebody impartial – not your parents or siblings or anyone who likes you, and especially nobody who owes you money – and listen to what they tell you. Your masterpiece may actually be unpublishable, or maybe it just needs a tweak or two. Do whatever is suggested, and try again. And, finally, if you simply can’t persuade any agent or publisher (and in my view getting an agent is an essential prerequisite to finding a publisher), there’s always Amazon. Get the book professionally edited unless you’re completely certain it’s faultless grammatically, get it formatted, find someone to design a decent cover, so that it doesn’t look like a self-published effort, and load it into all the Amazon stores around the world. Then spend every spare minute each week promoting it. You may be pleasantly surprised at the results. Or you may not, obviously.

What's the best advice anyone has ever given you?

Never give up. Trite, yes, but if you have faith in your ability as a writer, you have to keep going. In my case, I’d had a fair degree of success writing articles and stories for magazines before I embarked on the longer and more difficult voyage that is a full-length novel, so I knew people were prepared to pay for what I wrote.

I remember having lunch with my literary editor shortly after he’d secured my first publishing contract with Macmillan in London, and he asked me what I thought was the most important characteristic of a writer. I suggested the obvious things like command of the English language, ability to plot a book, and to write sparkling dialogue. All that kind of thing. He just shook his head. He agreed that they were all important, possibly even essential, for a writer, but in the end not one of them mattered anything like as much as persistence, the ability to keep on going after receiving rejection slip after rejection slip. A perfectly crafted manuscript is just so much scrap paper unless an editor or publisher or agent is reading it.

How do you react to a bad review?

I ignore it, because there’s no point in doing anything else. One of my books received a 1 star review on Amazon because the ‘reviewer’ – using the word in its loosest possible sense – didn’t like the title. He hadn’t bought the book or read a single word of the text, but he still published his ‘review’. You can’t argue or reason with somebody with that kind of mindset, because it’s like talking to a field of turnips, so the best thing you can do is just walk away.

I don’t often check my reviews, and I rarely read the good ones, only the bad ones, in case there’s something I can do about them, but I only mean that in a technical sense. One of my recent ebooks got a 2 star review, and the reason was nothing to do with the writing or the story. The electronic text had a flaw in it which meant that at the end of the book there were several pages, possibly even chapters, missing. So I asked my publisher to sort out the problem, and I responded on Amazon and told the reviewer what I’d done and what was going to happen.

But if someone simply says the book is rubbish, that’s their opinion and that’s the end of it. Arguing with them or shouting at them isn’t going to change their mind.

What is your favorite scene in your book?

Possibly the tunnel scene at the end, and the ‘fell guardian’ they encounter there. I’ll say no more to avoid giving away too much of the plot.

What makes your novel stand out from the crowd?

I have always tried to base my books on a hard core of facts and to build the story from that point. I believe this gives my books more of a sense of authenticity than you’ll find in a novel where everything is just the product of the author’s fevered imagination. This is also the reason why I always include an Author’s Note at the end of the book, so that I can confirm which bits of the story are fact-based, and explain some of the information I found when I was doing the research.

Do your characters really talk to you?

Definitely. I feel as if I would recognize them immediately if I walked into a room full of people. It’s also interesting that sometimes a minor character, just put into the text to get shot or something, turns out to be far more important to the story and ends up with a leading role. I don’t count most of them as friends, but certainly as acquaintances, and I’d like to think that the reader will also get to know them quite well.

When did you start writing, and was there a significant event that prompted you to do so?

I earned my first crust from writing at the age of 17, with a probably libelous letter sent to a now-defunct motoring magazine in response to a published article with which I entirely disagreed. I never expected a reply, but the editor sent me a letter a few days later along with a decent cheque and a promise of publication.

After that, I started writing regularly for several UK magazines on subjects ranging from cars and motorcycles to weapons and travel, and I had a decent strike rate, getting probably 70%-80% of what I wrote accepted for publication. Eventually I was being commissioned to write stuff for some of the magazines. I then had a proper job in the military and wrote for various classified and unclassified publications, but it wasn’t until I had left the Royal Navy that I had the time to write a book.

That was eventually published by Macmillan as ‘Overkill’ by ‘James Barrington’, my first nom de plume. The idea behind it was inspired by what I learned in the military. For a time I worked on a thing called The War Book, a document classified Top Secret, and which detailed exactly what Britain would do if the nasty Russians (our obvious potential enemy at the time) started advancing towards our little island nation. And what we would do, in short, was retreat slowly out of Europe, batten down the hatches in Britain and wait for the American forces to come along and rescue us. So what, I thought, would we do if America was somehow taken out of the equation? What then? And how could the Russians eliminate America as an ally of Britain? That was the idea that sparked the book, though the plot of the finished novel was rather different.

Any other books in the works? Goals for future projects?

Yes. Writing is arguably a profession but certainly it’s a job, and no author can really just stop working: it’s a continuing process. At the moment I’m working on ‘Operation XD’, the WW2 thriller I mentioned above. Once I’ve finished that I’ll have another full-length ‘James Barrington’ thriller to write, featuring a man called Paul Richter, a kind of renegade secret agent who seems to be gaining popularity at the moment. After that, there’ll probably be another ‘James Becker’ historical mystery thriller, and maybe another ‘Max Adams’ WW2 thriller as well. And that’ll be the pattern for as long as I can come up with ideas and get the books written.

In your wildest dreams, which author would you love to co-author a book with?

Wilbur Smith. I’ve always admired his writing and the sheer breadth and scope of his plots.

Describe your book in 5 words

Found: the Templar’s lost treasure.

How many books are in your TBR pile?

Dozens. Because I write thrillers, that’s also mainly what I read. I use BookBub and I usually download one or two each time I get the email, so I always have a large stock of books on my tablet, waiting to be read. This is partly because I also lecture on cruise ships, and having plenty of reading material on an electronic device just makes sense: trying to take twenty or thirty paperbacks on a world cruise would mean an extra suitcase, and there just isn’t the space for that.

I’m happy to buy books from authors I’ve never heard of, but if the story hasn’t grabbed me within the first few chapters, or if the writing is studded with spelling mistakes (completely inexcusable with modern spell-checkers) or howling grammatical errors, it will probably be consigned to my electronic dustbin quite quickly. If I really enjoy it, I’ll give it a permanent place in my electronic library.

What do you hope readers will get from your book?

A lot of factual information about the Knights Templar order that might even prompt them to do some research of their own, and hopefully an enjoyable story to read as I give them my ideas about what might have actually happened to the Templar treasure at the beginning of the fourteenth century.

Finish the sentence- one book I wish I had written is….

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. I just love Douglas Adams’s breadth of imagination and his galaxy-spanning vision of a universe peopled with bureaucratic Vogons tasked with destroying planets to make way for hyperspace bypasses, Vogons whose spaceships hang in the air ‘in exactly the same way that bricks don’t’. (Real creative writing, Douglas Adams-style). And of course beautiful planets so popular with tourists, and so worried about erosion, that any net imbalance between the amount a tourist consumes and the amount he or she excretes is surgically removed from their body before they are allowed to leave. Hence (as stated by the electronic book that is the real star of the series of novels) the vital requirement to obtain a receipt every time the tourist uses a toilet. A man with a wild imagination, and a really unusual writing style.

How long do you generally let a story idea ”stew” in your brain before you start the book?

That depends on the idea. For ‘Overkill’, I had the idea for a year or two, and then spent about ten years writing, re-writing and re-re-writing the book before I produced the finished manuscript.

Other novels have taken much less time. Back in 2011, my agent suggested I write a book about the sinking of the Titanic for the centenary the following year, but with a twist. We kicked some ideas around, and because of certain circumstances it turned into a real rush job, and I ended up writing the entire full-length novel, including doing all the research about the ship and its layout and its fatal voyage, in exactly 28 days. That was almost certainly the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life, but it was worth it because my agent sold it as ‘The Titanic Secret’ to Simon & Schuster as part of a two-book deal at the London Book Fair a few weeks later.

What distracts you the most when you’re trying to write?

As long as you promise not to tell her, I’ll admit that it’s my wife. She’s a woman, obviously, and that means she talks. Constantly. She talks to me, or talks to herself, or talks to friends on the phone or to people on the television. Actually, she usually argues with them or shouts at them, because many of them are clearly idiots. Working in the same space with her – when we’re sharing a cabin on a ship, for example – is tricky at best, so I tend to get up early and write while she’s still asleep, when she hardly talks at all, or remove myself to another part of the house or ship and work there.

Series: The Lost Treasure of the Templars (Book 3)
Publisher: Berkley (October 3, 2017)
Genre: Mystery, Historical
ISBN-10: 0451473973
ISBN-13: 978-0451473974
Buy: Amazon, Kindle, IndieBound, The Book Depository


James Becker, New York Times bestselling author of The Templar Archive, returns with a breakneck thriller whisking readers into the shadowy secret chambers of the Knights Templar.

Having barely escaping the crosshairs of a deadly cult, Robin Jessop and David Mallory crisscross Europe, seeking to unlock the truth behind a conspiracy unresolved for seven hundred years—the mystery of what has given the enigmatic Templars their unwavering power.

Infiltrating the group’s vast archives, Jessop and Mallory make a startling find. An ancient Templar passport hints at a sacred mission: the transportation of a priceless treasure, an artifact of incomprehensible value. Delving through centuries of clues and deception, the two come face-to-face with a secret that could shake Christendom to its core—and cost their own lives along the way.

Born in Cambridge, England, James Becker had a variety of jobs, including working in a mortuary and on a factory production line before joining the Royal Navy as a helicopter pilot. A medical problem ended his flying career and he transferred to the Air Traffic Control branch, where he spent the rest of his time in the service. This included working on a variety of ships, including three aircraft carriers, as well as at a number of shore stations. He was the Air Staff Officer on board HMS Illustrious during the Falklands Campaign, and ended his career doing staff jobs in the London area, including work classified at Top Secret level and above.

On leaving the service, he moved to the Principality of Andorra, where he still lives today. His first thriller, written under the pseudonym 'James Barrington' and entitled 'Overkill' was published in 2004, and was followed by several other novels and a non-fiction book 'Joint Force Harrier' about the Afghan campaign. He also writes as 'Max Adams', producing WW2 thrillers, as well as the 'James Becker' historical mystery series. James Becker is a pseudonym.




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