Ultimately, though, it is aimed at readers that like a good yarn, an intellectual challenge and want to step back in time while being led on an adventure in the hunt for unexpected treasure.
M.J. Colewood – 19 December 2016
The Back Flap
It is 1066 and in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings the lifeless corpse of King Harold has been looted. The disappearance of a particular item enrages Duke William, and only one of his knights knows its whereabouts. In his remaining years this knight has to make a decision: will he ever share his secret, or take the greatest enigma in English history to the grave?
Centuries later, when Chester Bentley arrives at his new Devonshire boarding school, he is unprepared for the mystery it conceals. The discovery of an age-old riddle lures him and his new friends into a quest to uncover the secrets safeguarded by the stately manor house. Hidden somewhere in the county is an extraordinary treasure and the school holds the puzzling key to its surprising location.
But something is lurking in the dark, shadowing them each time they venture out from their dormitory at night, and a ghostly legend puts fear into the bravest of pupils. In their last year at the remote school time is running out; so can they succeed where others have failed, and even died, in a chilling hunt to reveal the last treasure of ancient England?
About the book
What is the book about?
When our protagonist, Chester Bentley, is bundled off to a remote boarding school in rural Devon he discovers the old house not only conceals a ghost, but also a dark secret and a string of intriguing riddles that will lead him and his new-found friends to resolve the greatest mystery in all English history.
When did you start writing the book?
Last year. A long time was spent planning it before any writing began.
How long did it take you to write it?
First draft, was four months. Then the second draft took a further three months and then after advanced copies went out and we included their feedback that added another five months on to the tally. So, just over a year in total for the polished product with some corrections being added in the very week of publication.
Where did you get the idea from?
From my time at the school used as the backdrop for the story and I have thought about it on and off for thirty years.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
It was hard to get the right balance at the beginning. I wanted a gentler intro but in the end was advised to start the debut novel with a declaration of intent.
What came easily?
Several things, such as the dialogue between the protagonists but above all the final scene when all is revealed.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
Some are inspired by characters of fiction and some are a mixture of real people. Take Mr. Briggs, he is a mix of myself, I am a teacher after all, my old Maths teacher in his appearance and David Niven in how he carries himself and part of his character comes from a Geography supply teacher, who amazed all of us.
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
I love the elegant, witty writing of Niven, but that does not mean I am his equal, nor his understudy. Orwell inspires in his ethics and efficient style, forget Hemingway, Eric Blair is a much more potent practitioner of the simple phrase. And Conan Doyle for his ability to leave the reader hanging on each and every time for the truth to be revealed.
Do you have a target reader?
I would say the young-to-mature adult, but also the ambitious young reader that devours books and has already started reading serious material. I do not pull any punches on the battle scenes. I am not interested in feeding war to young readers as some sort of valid entertainment. It is about time that they were shaken out of their shoot-‘em-up videogame daze and told the shocking truth. If you want your child to ‘enjoy’ violence, then they won’t find it among any of my pages. Ultimately, though, it is aimed at readers that like a good yarn, an intellectual challenge and want to step back in time while being led on an adventure in the hunt for unexpected treasure.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
First read from all angles, watch films, documentaries to give me ideas and more ideas. You need to have too much information so that you only end up with gems. Then sometimes the idea comes to me with the ending i.e. what is it they are going to discover or sometimes I am hit by the beginning of a story and that grows and leads me to an intriguing finale. I know a lot of people write everything down and work it all out in front of them, but first I like to play things out in my head and ponder things in the shower, out walking, dozing in bed. I let my imagination wonder and when the skeleton is almost formed that’s when I sit down and flesh things out. Of course, I’ll jot the occasional idea down so that I don’t forget it completely but the basic structure is in my head from the starting point to the exit point. Where the journey takes the reader in between is up for grabs and that requires fine tuning on paper or PC later on.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
Once I am happy that I have a storyline worth dedicating time towards that’s when I write reams of material under each chapter. It could be done more efficiently and that is something I have to work on to help myself get my message to print quicker than previous books.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
Definitely at the end. How many people have started a book and not finished it? If one in fifty in the UK have apparently written a book, then the number of unfinished manuscripts must be enormous. I need to get everything down, while the ideas are flowing. That is not something that can be planned, but editing can be tackled whenever and wherever.
Did you hire a professional editor?
No, we didn’t. I am not against it. If you can find one that is reputable. But we are a writing team and that helps pick up many things in the wash. It was not viable either due to our finances and we have also been lucky with some of our readers who received advanced copies and gave of their valuable time in scribbling across their copies and correcting things for us. I dare say there will be errors still but they should not be glaring mistakes and certainly nothing that will stop the reader from enjoying the story in the slightest. Editing helps the finished product, beyond doubt but if I could have hired any professional help to ease the pain of publication it would have been in the formatting of documents for publication, opening accounts with eBook sites, drawing up the book cover and producing the right dimensions for print. All of that, which many people may find rewarding, I found a time-consuming distraction to the paramount activity of creative story writing and getting the next book done.
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
I can do, but as I teach, silence seems to be a good alternative to my working day, which helps focus the mind. As my time is in short supply the very fact that I have an uninterrupted period of a couple of hours to write is enough motivation, I need no more than that. Hence the fact that I am writing this at five in the morning and have been up since four. While the world slumbers outside there is nothing to distract me.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
Oh yes! All of them I would say. And in this cosmopolitan world in which we live nowadays they all amazingly sent the exact same reply: ‘It doesn’t fit with my list’, which leads me to conclude they must also have the same list. So, when they all declare the same thing on their website ‘I am looking for a unique voice’ and that is precisely what you provide them with, it does beg the question if that is really what they want or is it just the next generic blockbuster they are waiting for?
What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
A process of rejection emails and the growing number of ecstatic approvals from those reading our advanced copies. If our readers (who are all well-read at that) had come back and given it the thumbs down then we would have torn the thing up and started again. So, they gave us the fuel to continue and self-publish. I mean you go to all that effort and do nothing with it? No, it had to see the light of day, even if it was just out of simple respect for your family who you had been temporarily parted from during its writing. They, at least, had to see the end product.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?
That was one of the more surprising episodes. We had every intention of getting it done professionally but our designer, just suddenly disappeared off the radar and others we had found were either uninspiring or out of our price rage. That was until Jacqueline, the other half of MJ Colewood, came across a template and thought ‘I could do that’, and so she did. The design was clean, elegant and engaging and also achieved a design language that we can apply to the rest of the series. It also gives very little of the game away and so the hunt begins on the cover. What in the Dickens does that symbol stand for against that title? You’ve already stepped into the book.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
As we had hoped to get it published due to the fact we had a ‘unique voice’, which apparently is all the rage and we also had a publishing deadline to keep to, namely the 950th anniversary of Hastings, which we achieved (you can check out the publishing date on Amazon) the marketing had to come along later. We did set up a website and a twitter account, which were essential tools in drumming up interest before the launch. So, we are still learning as we go, but we always knew we wanted to get involved with the blogging community, whether we self-published or not. We have all had blogs and it just seemed a logical step. It would also let the market decide whether our book should live to fight another day or perish there and then on the battlefield of Hastings.
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
You want to write, that’s great. Are you going to write something that others want to read though? That is the question. If you know what your strengths are i.e. your fields of interest then you must adapt those to a popular reading topic. So, I have a degree in Medieval history. Now I could have written a history book, but then I am no professor so I wouldn’t have found representation and the market is narrow when it comes to non-fiction Medieval history. But I could write a novel that has a medieval theme! Now that’s a wide market, especially of late, with many books and TV series based around this era. That also emboldened us to engage with the project. We knew it would be something that people would actually want to read, not just a few but the mass market.
Where did you grow up?
Born and bred in Plymouth I grew up spending my time in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset. Jacqueline is from East Anglia, but moved around quite a lot as a child.
Where do you live now?
We both live in the province of Girona, in Catalunya nestled between Barcelona, France, the Pyrenees and the Med.
What would you like readers to know about you?
I have another series of books, The Hispanohile Series, which cover a range of topics concerning Spain, all gleaned from the 23 years that I have spent living here. I had to have something to show for it. From Quixote to memoir and from a culture guide to a bullfighting handbook (not that I am an aficionado)
What are you working on now?
Book 2 in the series, there is still much to tell about Master Bentley and Montague and through them relive some of England’s surprising history all in the name of hidden treasure.
Let the game be ventured!
End of Interview: