I was born in London with my twin brother Julian during the extraordinarily cold winter of 1962. It also saw the last of the great London ‘pea-souper’ fogs. My father was an industrialist and great white hunter (he had even shot big game with the likes of Ernest Hemingway) and was a gifted biochemist and polymath lifted straight from the era of the Austro-Hungarian empire. He was an awe-inspiring figure – aged sixty when I was born – and had lived a fascinating life. He moved to America in the 1920s, lost a fortune in the Wall Street Crash, established biochemical companies in England, and lived In Claridges between the wars. It is said he shot with Hermann Goring and got the fat Reichsmarschall drunk in order to steal Nazi secrets. During the war, a German bomb fell through the ceiling of the trophy room at his Mayfair home – luckily failing to explode. Add to all this his superb horsemanship and facility with languages (he was fluent in seven or eight) and you have an astonishing character and story. He died in 1974.
My mother Lucy Jackson is a writer of children’s books and doyenne of dance and movement. After fifty-five years of teaching (from Iceland to Oman, from New York to Frankfurt), she is fitter and more active than most of my own generation. She still climbs trees – and has even tackled paragliding – well into her seventies. I owe much of my love of literature, history and writing to her.
From an early age – I blame it on the Look & Learn journal and the Scarlet Pimpernel books – I was fascinated with all matters history. The enjoyment of writing too was always there. Frankly, it beat Latin vocab or mixing things in a test-tube every time. I was about sixteen when I decided I wanted to be an author (the plot-line I thought up then was later to become the basis for my launch novel). Sadly, exams, universities, law schools and career intervened. Eventually, back in February 1996 I sat down before a prehistoric word-processor and daisywheel printer and began to write my first techno-thriller ’Dead Headers’. Looking back to those pre-9/11 days, its basic premise – a warning of the threat posed by mass terrorism – seems rather prescient. I essentially based it on my postgraduate thesis, while the locations were set in holiday destinations I visited as a child. Pretty cost-effective.
But my regard for history, defence and international relations – later developed at university and in my writing for specialist journals – was encouraged by my stepfather Ian Jackson. He had served both as a paratrooper and commando during WWII and had parachuted into Normandy. He had also, as a young surgeon, operated at the Royal London Hospital in the East End during the height of the Blitz. Towards the end of the war he had been part of the medical team that relieved the infamous Japanese POW camp in Singapore’s Changi jail. He was an inspiration to me, a brilliant surgeon, a wonderful and modest man, and I wish he were alive to read my books.
I was educated at Cheam School, Wellington College, Bristol University, King’s College London, the London College of Law, and the Inns of Court School of Law. I was Called to the Bar and am a Member of the Inner Temple.
In writing terms, I cut my teeth on modern espionage and techno-thrillers. They provided an excellent grounding for what came later. I hope I have succeeded in transferring some of their energy, pace and high-impact to the world of the historical thriller.
Click below to read excerpts taken from my school reports of yesteryear. They might illuminate or amuse and at the very least should give some idea of my early strengths and weaknesses. With hindsight, they might have provided some kind of pointer to the direction I was destined to travel.Read excerpts from James' School Report