Friday, 2 September 2011

Not the best year I've ever had ...

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker)

It has been, by any standards, a pretty bad year. Last November my mother-in-law – a lady with whom I had a very good relationship – was diagnosed with terminal cancer and despite two very major operations and treatment from the National Health Service that was, despite our fears fuelled by the typical bad press the NHS attracts, startlingly good, she died in July. It’s perhaps not entirely surprising that because of this I have been somewhat distracted, and this has inevitably impacted my job – writing. That’s not an excuse for my prolonged absence from this blog: it’s simply a fact.
            Quite apart from the mental anguish that such an event produces for all family members, there are also the sheer practical aspects of the matter to consider. Initially, it was taking her to receive the chemo treatment that was recommended, which occupied about four to five hours two or three days a week. Then, when she was readmitted to hospital when it was clear that the treatment – which was at best a palliative, no more – wasn’t working, it was daily visits. These involved about a forty-minute drive each way, and then perhaps two hours at the hospital, and sometimes we were visiting twice a day. With that level of commitment – which we were only too pleased to make, obviously – almost all other aspects of our lives were to some extent put on hold. Until the diagnosis of my mother-in-law’s condition was made, I had never properly appreciated the fundamental truth of the expression that when one family member gets cancer, everyone in the family gets it. It really is, in all sorts of ways, a life-changing experience.
            Now we’ve moved into what you might call the admin phase: obtaining probate, clearing the house, what stuff do we sell, what do we keep, and which of the several charity shops in Sevenoaks should we visit next, carrying large bulging sacks. The staff at several now greet us by name, which I’m not entirely sure is a good thing …
            So we move on.
            Maybe a brief sitrep about where I am is a good idea, as I see that my last post here was back in April, and obviously a lot’s happened since then.
            In my post of 16th March, I mentioned a brand new writing project, an idea cooked up by my agent which, when the dust had settled and the dates finalized, necessitated writing just under 100,000 words in 28 days, including a lot of detailed research. The good news is that the project worked, and the manuscript was bought as part of a two-book deal by Simon & Schuster. The bad news – well, it’s actually not bad, just confusing – is that because this novel is in yet another different genre, I’ve had to acquire another nom de plume, my fourth.
            My agent’s idea was to set a conspiracy thriller on board the RMS Titanic on the ship’s tragic maiden voyage, which was the reason for all the research because, although the ship sank almost 100 years ago, there are thousands of people out there who know almost every detail of the interior and the construction. If my hero walked down a corridor, the description of the corridor would have to be right, otherwise the angry emails would start flooding in. I know how passionate people can get about their pet subject.
            I’m reminded of a local geographer here in Andorra who, when he read Overkill, my first ‘James Barrington’ book, actually got in his car and drove all the way out to my house, which is at the end of a dead-end valley, to point out that I’d got the name of a port in Albania wrong.
            Anyway, my new alter ego is ‘Jack Steel’ (the publisher is toying with ‘Jason Steel’, but the image in my mind is somehow wrong), and The Titanic Secret will be in the shops to coincide with the centenary of the sinking next April. We’ve just about finished the editing, and I’m waiting to see the proposed cover designs, which I hope will be available next week.
            And I now have a new website:, so please visit. You can also find me on


  1. Hello, Peter. It's good to "meet" you, Sir. I'm just getting acquainted with you, I'm sorry to admit. I have read Richard's novel, as well as Leigh's first two.
    Your writing sounds very interesting to me and I look forward to reading.
    I'm sorry to read of your loss.
    Take care.

    -James Garcia Jr.

  2. Hi James. Very many thanks for your message, and I hope you enjoy the books. I've had thirteen published to date, which I hope isn't an unlucky omen! With best wishes, Peter.