Tom has spent most of his life locked behind the cruel walls of Weatherly Orphanage, but when he learns that his parents might be alive, Tom knows he must do what he can to find them. He can’t leave Weatherly without his best friend Sarah, so armed with a single clue to his past, the word BRITFIELD, the two make a daring escape by commandeering a hot air balloon. Now they’re on the run from a famous Scotland Yard detective and what looks like half the police officers in England. Tom and Sarah’s journey takes them from Oxford to Windsor Castle, through London, and finally to Canterbury. Along the way, they discover that Tom may be the true heir to the British throne, but even with the help of two brilliant professors, it looks like Tom and Sarah will be captured and sent back to the orphanage before they have a chance to solve Tom’s royal mystery.
Is Tom really a member of the royal family? Will he and his best friend Sarah be able to prove the royal connection before Scotland Yard catches them? Follow Tom & Sarah’s daring escape with author C.R. Stewart and I as we chat about the novel ‘Britfield and the Lost Crown’ in today’s author interview. C.R., I can’t say I’ve read many books where the lead characters are running away from Scotland Yard in a hot air balloon. Tell us more about how the idea for this book came to you, and how you brought it to life.
I am excited that you are interested in Britfield & the Lost Crown. Part of a seven book series, Britfield was conceived as an idea over 10 years ago while sitting in a boring seminar in New England. It started as a sketch I did of a hot air balloon with a young boy and girl trapped inside. From this simple drawing sprang the entire concept and story for Britfield. I also liked the idea of adventure, exploration and freedom—seeing an extraordinary country for the first time: moving from place to place, enjoying spectacular scenery and exciting events, learning new things, meeting people, making friends and having hope for a better future. I like that not everything is what it seems. Not everyone is who you think they are: the simple often can become great, the great often turn out to be simple. Everyone has a unique story and this is Tom and Sarah’s story.
I don’t think we’d be chatting here today if you’d personally been chased by Scotland Yard, but are there other aspects of the book that have been drawn from your life?
Many, I could relate to most characters on one level or another: the sense of impossible odds, oppressive circumstances, overcoming fears, the help from others, and the bond of real friendship.
How did you go about crafting characters who display these bonds of real friendship?
One of the best techniques to use in developing a character is to relate the character to someone you know or have encountered. Often, a new character you develop can be a compilation on many attributes of real people, not just one. I based Professor Hainsworth on two professors I have had while attending Brown University, hard exterior but a kind heart. The deeper one goes with creating a character, the more believable they will be—they tend to write themselves, if you have done your work correctly.
What do you think about as you’re writing? How do the characters ‘write themselves’?
I am very visual, so I like to visualize the scene I am writing. I usually see it as a movie unfolding as I write—the setting, the tone, the mood, the surroundings, and the characters.
What did you learn by allowing the story to unfold in front of you?
Dedication, commitment and hard work. Britfield & the Lost Crown took 4 years and 2,500 hours to write. If you do something, either do it well or not at all — often that takes a tremendous amount of time and discipline.
Writing well is a huge effort, and I love that you’ve put your all into the project. As you look back on it today, what central message do you hope you shared well?
The importance of family.
Do you feel this message, and the subject matter at large is relevant to readers today, or will its importance become stronger in the future?
Britfield & the Lost Crown is a timeless classic that I hope is around for generations — its story, its principles and its characters are timeless.
Are there readers who probably shouldn’t read the classic you’ve created?
Our youngest reader was seven years old; our oldest reader was 93 years old. Britfield is for everyone: it’s an exciting adventure that takes you across England, incorporates history, geography, art, literature, and culture. The book is fun, funny, exciting and offers something for everyone.
How did you prepare to become a writer that offers something for everyone?
I have always been creative. I loved reading as a child, movies and storytelling, so all these areas had a huge influence on my life. Some of my favorite books growing up were The Mouse and the Motorcycle, by Beverly Cleary; James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl; and the Hardy Boys series. As I grew older, I enjoyed Charles Dickens and his ability to take a Shakespearean cast of characters and seamlessly weave them through his stories (Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and Great Expectations). I was heavily influenced by C. S. Lewis, his amazing depth and creativity as an author. Jane Austen captured the aristocracy, the intrigue, the forced etiquette and the psychological games and hypocrisies of the upper classes. The Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, wrote mysterious, romantic gothic novels that are powerful, moving and deep, such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Thomas Hardy took simple characters living in a rural setting and created complex, multilayered stories. And Daphne du Maurier, such as her epic novel Rebecca. I have visited most of the places these stories took place or were based on.
With all that said, it really started for me in 6th grade. What a wonderful teacher and an amazing class. Our assignment was to write a book. Can you imagine an assignment like that, where do you start? I think there was a limit of 30 pages. I was 12 and loved the James Bond movies, so I wrote James Bond Eat Your Heart Out. I was a secret government agent working for the British government and had an assignment to track down a notorious villain. My partner was Jaclyn Smith (that should date me). We traveled all around Europe tracking down the villain and were involved in high-speed chases and plenty of combat. I had so much fun writing this and the experience never left me. I still have this book, wrapped in a leather binder with embossed lettering. This was when I knew I wanted to be a writer, it just took a long time to get there.
What path did you follow from that 6th grade tale to where you are today? Where did you learn how to write?
I received a Bachelor of Arts in British Literature and European History from Brown University; did post- graduate work at Harvard University; earned an MBA from Boston College; and am pursuing a Master of Science in Advanced Management and a PhD in Strategy at Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management, Claremont Graduate University. My areas of expertise are screen writing, film and media production, global strategy, and international marketing.
Wow, with that much time in universities you’ve obviously had a lot of time to built your skills in the written craft. During this journey have you also used writers groups to gain a different perspective of your work?
I have not joined any writing groups but do recommend them for people that like to read other’s works, share feedback and receive feedback. I have a great editor for Britfield and usually around draft III, I take the manuscript to schools and run pilot programs for my target audience. They have three weeks to read the manuscript, fill out a survey once they are done, then I come in to the library for a day and do roundtables with 4-5 students at a time. I am no longer the teacher but rather the pupil: I sit, ask questions and take notes. These students are my feedback, they are my critics of what they liked and did not like, what works and what does not work.
What kind of feedback pops up at these roundtables? What does the toughest criticism and most rewarding feedback look like?
Toughest, which is usually ignored, is from someone who did not like the book but does not understand literature, is not really a reader or has anything to reference as an example. It’s like the film critic who knows nothing about writing a script or making a movie but will try to destroy someone’s hard work in five minutes or twenty lines.
The best is when a child reads Britfield & the Lost Crown, a 384 page books, in five hours—that’s stunning. Many have said it is the best book they ever read; others have said it does not remind them of anything else they have read, which is truly an amazing compliment.
It truly is. Now that you’ve published, have the responses from readers been similar to what you saw in those roundtables?
We have received extraordinary feedback, scoring a 9.03 out of a scale of 10. Most everyone, so far, loves the story, loves the characters, loves the adventure—they simply cannot wait for Book II. We have had non-readers, people who simply never read, love Britfield. We have presented to thousands of children, schools and even adults, who support the book, promote Britfield and have provided incredible feedback.
Has your voice as an author changed with the feedback from your own rewrites over time, editors and the roundtables?
Absolutely, I am always improving and growing as a writer. I am always trying to expand my abilities, vocabulary, different ways of writing a scheme or paragraph. Every time I edit my Book, right now I am finishing/polishing Britfield & the Rise of the Lion, Book II, I become a better writer. I try to focus on the story and always move the narrative without too much description or details, not to be repetitive and always ask, “Does that need to be in the story, does it move the narrative along or is it just extra details that undermines the flow.”
It’s clear that you’ve spent a great deal of time questioning your writing to make it the best it can be. Have you also turned your attitude of continuous improvement to the branding of your book?
The goal of Devonfield Publishing is to offer a boutique/concierge publishing service to an elect number of authors per year and change the face of the publishing industry as we presently know it. So, yes, we are currently creating the Britfield brand.
*Laughs* I’m glad to see that you’ve decided to take on publishing the same way you’ve decided to take on the challenge of writing. All in, or not at all. One of the most visible aspects of a brand is the book’s cover. Who designed the cover for you?
The very talented Stephen Silver at Silvertoons.com
Stephen’s done a great job, and with solid plans to publish at least one more book in the series I think he’s set you up with a great visual starting point. Since the goal of Devonfield Publishing is to change the publishing industry, there has to be more books on the horizon. What writing projects are you currently working on?
I finished Britfield & the Rise of the Lion, Book II (540 pages) last July. It was my final edit, and I already had it professionally edited. I had also piloted it with schools for feedback (my demographic). However, I wanted to take one more pass and see how it reads and flows, so on July 4th, I returned for one final edit—it’s been great. I have caught a few sections that needed a little bit more work, changed a few words, and tightened other scenes. I will be starting on Britfield & the Return of the Prince, Book III in the fall.
Book III! That’s so exciting and I wish you the best of luck building the third instalment! C.R., thanks so much for sharing a taste of the exciting world that awaits readers in ‘Britfield and the Lost Crown’, and I hope to hear more about both this book and the upcoming series soon!
Excited to read the book we discussed today? Find it here on Amazon: ‘Britfield and the Lost Crown ( ASIN: B07T99WGNL )‘.
Want to find out more about C.R. Stewart? Connect here!