2. Thou shalt provide thy hero with a helpmate in the form of an attractive and somewhat younger heroine, also intelligent, usually possessed of wisdom in a complimentary field that she may assist thy hero without duplicating his skills.
3. Thou shalt begin thy story with a violent death, usually of a good person, who may be associated with the hero, but dost not have to be.
4. Thou shalt include in thy story a secretive organization, usually one that has been around for donkey’s years and has links to history and may also have had famous people as members.
5. Thy hero shalt progress through a maze of mysteries and puzzles and must solve the immediate step in the puzzle before he be allowed to progress to the next stage in thy story.
6. Thou shalt put obstacles in the path of thy hero in the form of a strong and dastardly villain that art trying to stop thy hero and foil his efforts. Thy dastardly villain shall be willing to resort to committing the most heinous of crimes in pursuit of his nefarious agenda. However, thy dastardly villain shall not act on his own initiative or in his own interests but rather shall he be subservient to shadowy figures in the background of thy story.
7. The masters of thy dastardly villain shall be a powerful organization (see 4th Commandment) that hath a vested interest in foiling the hero because he doth threaten their interests or the established order.
8. Thou shalt set thy story in an exotic location, or series of locations, that playeth a major part in thy story or in the historical background to thy story.
9. Towards the end of thy story, it shall finally dawn upon thy hero (as it surely hath already on most of thy readers) that the hero is being betrayed by one who is close to him (but not the female lead) and that the traitor be associated with the very organization that hath been trying to stop thy hero all along.
10. Notwithstanding thy hero’s sense of righteous indignation at the betrayal, he shall surely solve the final step in the mystery and successfully overcome the obstacles, without the aid of the Almighty, but with some help from the heroine, with whom he shall end up with in a state of transient connubial bliss (albeit outside the bonds of holy matrimony).
The more astute readers of The Moses Legacy may have noticed an error. On page 161 I stated that Daniel Klein got his PhD from Cambridge. But on page 257, I wrote that he got it from SOAS. I don’t know whether to blame the copy editor or the proofreader.
The Moses Legacy is selling quite well. 2,696 in its first week – which wasn’t even a full week – was enough to put it into position five on the Heatseeker chart. 3,767 in its second week took it to position 3. Then last week it sold 3,137, so it will be interesting to see where it stands on the Heatseeker chart. I decided to look up the two books above it on the Heatseeker list.
The one that was is an American book that has 220 reviews on Amazon.com, 12 on amazon.co.uk and is in position 625 in the amazon.co.uk chart (paperback edition).
The book that is second has 63 customer reviews in Amazon.co.uk and is in position 172 in ther sales chart, but more importantly it has 26 press reviews including in the Times, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Mail on Sunday, Independent on Sunday, USA Today, Washington Post, Marie Claire, Time Out, Bookseller and Red – as well as endorsements from Stephen King, Jeffrey Deaver and Sara Paretsky. I must admit that I am a bit miffed at this as Jeffrey Deaver told me that he didn’t have time to read books – even published books. And Sara Paretsky ignored my eMail altogether.
But that’s life. We must keep on trying.
I have noticed, every time I log on to YouTube to listen to my favourite music from the sixties through the eighties, that there is invariably some disparaging comment, contrasting the music of Justin Bieber with the great music of the sixties to eighties. I have seen this on YouTube videos of everyone from The Seekers to Jethro Tull to Melanie Safka, from Abba to Jim Croce to Dire Straits, from the Alan Parsons Project to Ace of Base. Whilst I certainly prefer all those acts – and many more – to anything that Justin Bieber has done thus far, I think those critics are being unfair to him – on a number of counts.
First of all, let us not forget that Justin Bieber is very young, barely seventeen, and has not really had the time to develop genuine musical sophistication. In spite of this, he managed to teach himself to play the guitar (left-handed), piano, trumpet and drums – and all by the time he was fourteen. To learn to play even one musical instrument is hard. To teach oneself to play four takes a degree of dedication that your average X-factor contestant, or even winner, simply does not have. It is for that reason that I suspect Justin Bieber has the kind of staying power in the music industry to avoid being a here-today-gone tomorrow supernova, as well as the self-discipline to avoid the all-too-familiar burnout that plagues the likes of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan.
But what implication does this have for his music? To answer that question we must look at older musical talent that has stayed the course. They may differ from each in many respects but the one thing they have in common is a tendency to change their styles as they mature, to experiment with different forms and develop new and changing interests in all aspects of music. I am not talking about Madonna reinventing herself every few years, although that is an aspect of the same phenomenon – and she is certain a role model when it comes to an almost Spartan regime of self-discipline. I am talking about people like Tom Jones trying his hand – and vocal chords – at religious music, Bob Dylan risking the wrath of the hippie crowd by picking up an electric guitar or Ricky Nelson moving away from fifties rock-and -oll to become Rick Nelson.
Not every transformation is equally good in the eyes of everyone. I still prefer the old BeeGees in melodious sixties “Run to Me” style than their pseudo-macho “Staying Alive” era. And I don’t like it when sixties artists re-record their hits at half the tempo, whether it be “Both Sides Now” or “Hello World.” But my personal preferences are not the point. It is the capacity to change ones style whilst living by the doctrine “above all to thine own self be true,” – as much as Alice Cooper’s dictum about separating ones public from by ones private persona – that enables some to stay the course while others fall by the wayside.
And this is the lesson that the old fogies of pop and rock can teach Justin Bieber. As he matures and grows musically, it is inevitable that he will vary his style and experiment with different forms. If he can also avoid the pitfalls that come with being surrounded by yes-men then we can be sure that he will stay the course and enrich the world with his music for many years to come.
NB The picture that goes with this posting is intended as humorous and should not be taken as implying that Justin Bieber has really read – much less endorses – The Moses Legacy or its content.
I returned from Israel on the 5th of October, refreshed and with a fair amount of the first draft written. Although it had been principally a holiday, I had taken advantage of the relaxing environment to work. I actually do my best writing on holiday. Upon my return, I updated Kate and Diane on my progress, but Diane was snowed under with work after the London Book Fair and it it took a while for her to get back to me.
Meanwhile I plowed on with the book, in-between making marketing suggestions and sending a couple of examples of the snake motif to help the cover designer. Then I noticed that Amazon had pre-listed the book as The Moses Legacy rather than The Moses Tablet. I wrote to Kate about this and she realized that she had subconsciously briefed the designer with that name too. We all thought about it further and Kate and I agreed that in fact The Moses Legacy was actually better. Diane also agreed and so now the book was back to the original title that I had first thought of when I pitched the idea.
Finally on November the 11th – less than three months after I had started – I submitted the first draft to Kate and Diane. And this was a book that I was still researching while I was writing it! And it was a lot of research! And I had a holiday in between. Kate and Diane were both impressed and now all I had to do was sit tight while they read it and gave me their feedback.
However, like most writers, I kept re-reading it. And the more I reread, the more I thought about how I should have done things differently and how I wanted to change it. But I couldn’t change it now, because Kate was reading it and presumably making editorial notes. So I wrote an eMail with the subject line “Post-Natal depression” explaining in general terms that I had been thinking about changes and had come up with some ideas. We agreed that I would make notes of my ideas but wait for her editorial comments before making any changes or even telling Kate my ideas. That way her editorial notes would be entirely her own and we would be able to see to what extent we agreed about the necessary changes.
On the 29th of November Kate and I talked on the phone. She was very impressed with the story and some of the set pieces but had found some faults that I hadn’t thought about. I for my part wanted to make some even more radical changes that would make the ending more focused and dramatic. Kate agreed that these could work, but they might require other changes earlier in the story and she was concerned that because we were already operating in a tight time-frame that I might be able to make it on time. However, she left it to my judgement and I know that the ball as in my court and it was up to me to deliver.
On the 19th of August 2010, Diane, my agent, wrote back to me that she personally liked my suggested title Shibboleth, but felt that it was difficult to pronounce. She said that the title needed to be catchy and memorable. Although this wasn’t an outright negative, I decided to give it some more thought and not yet put the suggested title to Kate, my editor. In the meantime got on with writing the book. (I had already written two chapters in four days and felt that the going was good.)
On the 27th of August, I wrote to Diane again, proudly boasting that I was ahead of schedule with the writing and suggesting that maybe we could get HarperCollins to bring out the book in April to coincide with the Jewish festival of Passover. I thought that as the book was about a conspiracy concerning Moses and the Biblical Exodus of the Israelite slaves from Egypt that this would be particularly appropriate. But Diane pointed out that the significance of the suggested date had to be balanced against the fact that Summer was a better slot than Spring, although she agreed to run the idea by Kate for a second opinion.
I continued working on the book and then on the 15th of September I got an eMail from Kate that the Avon team had been having discussions on the title and their favourite was The Sacred Sign. I felt a little put out because it seemed that a decision had been reached before I was given a chance to offer any input. There was nothing essentially wrong with The Sacred Sign (although I suspect it was an attempt to ride on the coat-tails of The Lost Symbol), but I felt that I should have been given a chance to offer a few suggestions before it got to the group discussion stage.
I wrote back explaining my feelings and offering the title Shibboleth, along with my argument about it being unknown but enigmatic, like The Tesseract. I also suggested that my non-de-plume for the new project be Abe Phillips. Kate wrote back promptly that Shibboleth and my other suggestions didn’t really work, but agreed that the nom-de-plume was okay and agreed to put it to the team.
There followed a brief exchange in which I pushed gently for my preference, but Kate held firm. The gist of Kate’s argument – which in retrospect makes perfect sense – is that the title should be clear and straightforward. In particular, she pointed out that The Tesseract, which I had offered as an example, was an exception – a word-of-mouth hit in the era before the supermarkets packed such clout in the book retail market. Furthermore, the Avon list specialized in selling through the supermarkets. Our discussions spilt over into the question of whether we should be so heavily reliant on the supermarkets, especially as they have little patience for slow-burners. But as Kate pointed out, we have to operate within the existing market and the supermarkets do pack the most clout.
The exchange was good-natured, but it was clear to all of us that the differences were far from resolved. Wanting to find some common ground, I suggested a book giveaway on Goodreads before publication, to get some pre-publication reviews and generate some buzz in advance. Two days later I went to Israel for two weeks, for the Jewish festival of Succot and three days into my visit, after clearing my head in the fresh Jerusalem air, I wrote to Kate again explaining that having thought about it, I was warming to the title The Sacred Sign. This was partly because I had been thinking about the cover design and I had come up with the idea of a snake coiled around a pole (called “the Rod of Asclepius” by the ancient Greeks, but also associated with Moses and with the pharmaceutical industry).
Imagine my surprise then, when Kate wrote back to tell me that she had been reconsidering and had now decided that the title The Moses Tablet was fine after all! It seems that we were like ships that pass in the night… never quite meeting.
In paralel with this, the discussions about my pen name were continuing. In addition to Abe Phillips, I was offering various alternatives like Phil Abrams and Maurice Palmer – the latter a pun on Michael Caine’s real name of Maurice Mickelwhite and the character Harry Palmer whom he played in the films of several Len Deighton books. They liked the surname “Palmer” but thought that “Maurice” was a bit weak, suggesting Michael Palmer as an alternative. I liked this, but a quick web check revealed that there already was a Michael Palmer writing thrillers in America and he was still active. But as we all liked the surname, I suggested keeping it and using the first name Adam – the Biblical First Man.
Kate agreed and so now – just a few days before I was due to go to Israel for the Jewish festival of Succot – we had a title (The Moses Tablet) an author’s “name” (Adam Palmer) and a cover designer working on some ideas, one of which I had suggested myself.
What we didn’t know was that there already an Adam Palmer and that he had written a critique of the Da Vinci Code – the prime example of the very genre that I was trying to break into.
On the weekend after my meeting with my editor Kate, I wrote to Diane, my agent, updating her on the discussions:
I had my meeting with Kate on Thursday and I agreed to change and simplify The Moses Tablets...
My only concern is about the possible loss of the Summer release slot. I firmly believe that the summer slot is ideal, followed by the spring slot. On the other hand I obviously need more time (guaranteed in writing), given how late we have come to this decision. Kate was talking about a January 2012 slot, but this is less than ideal. If it was a hardback, I wouldn’t mind a November 2011 slot. But it isn’t and as for January (or even February), I see them as little more than graveyards.
The question is what can I do to make a summer slot attainable? Certainly, I can write a first draft in 6-8 weeks once the plot is finalized and the research done. In fact I am quite far with my research, as much of the old research can still be carried over. But I still have to finalize the plot. I reckon I may be able to do that by the end of the week. and then finish the research by the end of September. This gives me two months to write it by the end of November deadline for a summer release (if I have understood correctly).
I will only know for sure when I have completed a more detailed plot summary. If I manage that by the end of the week, then I can do the rest, including delivering by the end of November.
Kate said that she would send us a summary of our discussions on Monday, so you may be reading that at the same time as this.
Diana agreed with me that a summer publication slot was desirable and wrote to Kate accordingly, while I got on with the task of writing a two page synopsis based on my discussions with Kate. I did not yet send it to Kate, as I wanted Diane’s feedback first. I wanted to be sure that this story really hit the spot. I did however write to Kate, to sound her out on the idea of changing the male Mossad officer into a female. The reason for this was that I wanted to two strong female characters in addition to the male protagonist, in order to heighten the tension.
Kate for her part sent me the summary of our discussions (our messages crossed over) and this helped me a great deal. Not all of the things we discussed made it to the final cut. But certain key elements were there that form the basis of the final story: a female archaeologist make a major find with ancient writing, a young Anglo-Jewish professor Daniel Klein called in to translate, background research into the archives of 19th century explorer William John Bankes, the Mossad, Daniel coming under suspicion of murder, a chase, a ruthless secret society, seeking historical information from the Samaritans.
By mid-day on Tuesday the 10th of August, I had finished my own preliminary draft of the synopsis, incorporating these key elements and sent it to Kate. By the early evening, Diane wrote to me that she had spoken to Kate and they had agreed on a delivery deadline of the 1st of December, aiming for publication sometime in May or June. This was perfect for me and it was clear that Diane and Kate shared the excitement.
The title that I had settled upon – The Moses Tablet(s) was a problem however. Kate felt that it gave away too much too soon. The other issue was my name. The publishers felt that as this was a completely different genre to my other books, it should be published under a different name. This was something I entirely agreed with. But coming up with a new name could wait. I had to crack on with polishing the synopsis. By eight o’clock in the evening on August the 10th, I sent the synopsis to Kate.
Four days later, I wrote to Diane, suggesting that we call the book Shibboleth. Derived from the Hebrew word for an ear of corn, it has been incorporated into the English language as meaning “any distinguishing practice that is indicative of one’s social or regional origin. It usually refers to features of language, and particularly to a word whose pronunciation identifies its speaker as being a member or not a member of a particular group.” The literal origin goes back to a war between different Israelite tribes when the tribe of Ephraim was defeated. When fleeing members of the tribe of Ephraim tried to flee, they were challenged to say the word Shibboleth. If they pronounced it Sibboleth (because of their inability to pronounce the consonant Sh) they were put to death on the spot.
In my story, this conflict did not play a direct part, but the ancestors of the tribe of Israelite tribe of Ephraim and their origins – as well as their inability to pronounce sh – played a major part. But it was also the modern meaning of Shibboleth – a test of membership and faith – that gave it a pleasing double meaning. I pointed out that even if most people didn’t know the meaning, the same could be said of Tesseract – a title of a very successful book by Alex Garland.
One day later – on the 15th of August 2010 – I commenced the actual writing of the book.