For the Artists Who Like to Remain Strictly Out of the Box
You may be surprised to learn that MJ Colewood is in fact not one, but two authors. Mark Colenutt and Jacqueline Wood are friends, who after years of talking about books finally decided to join forces and write The Last Treasure of Ancient England.
Mark’s inspiration for the book came from his own boarding school days in the 1980’s at Buckland House School in Devon. The old manor house captured his imagination as did his History teacher who explained its historical connections. Mark became a teacher himself and later obtained an MA in History. He often entertains his pupils with tales of boarding school life and as his mind has wandered back to Buckland House over the years, the idea for the book has grown.
Jacqueline has loved stories since her father invented his own for her at bedtime (and she usually changed the endings). She made her way through the children’s section of the local library like Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and presented her first book to her headmaster at the age of eight. She graduated from Durham University with a degree in English and then trained to be a teacher.
When Mark told Jacqueline about his story idea she was captivated and didn’t take any persuading when he suggested they write it together.
1) When did you know that writing is what you were called to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most?
Mark: Ironically, I would have to say that if I had a ‘calling’ in life then it would have to be teaching, which is what I have done all my life. But writing is an extension of that. If I haven’t got something to say, then I haven’t got anything worth writing. So even while I have written a novel, it is laced with teaching from the scientific definition of intelligence to concepts of bravery and personal worth.
Jacqueline: Ever since I could read I have wanted to be a writer. But as Mark says, it’s important to have something worth saying. That’s why the best part of writing is being able to convey these messages to the reader.
2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you? What projects are you currently working on?
Mark: So far the best definitions offered by readers have been a ‘great-ripping yarn’ and ‘the Da Vinci Code in Devon.’ And while it has many elements in common with the Da Vinci Code in its riddles and mystery, it is not a done theme, such as yet another quest for the Holy Grail. The Last Treasure of Ancient England is a unique adventure, something you feel could happen and could happen to you
3) What has been your most significant achievement as a writer thus far? How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career?
Mark: As the book has just come out and is our debut novel, any such traditional measurement of achievement through professional accolades cannot yet be vaunted. So, the major achievement for the moment has been to produce a book that people are finding enjoyable to read, fulfilling its mission statement of submerging them in an ancient and unsuspecting mystery, which also happens to be a treasure hunt. We are at the very beginning of the adventure both for the novel and for the mystery series, so if the book passes any significant market milestones we’ll have to keep you posted as they are surpassed.
4) Do you have a schedule for when you write? Do you outline your novels? How long does it generally take you to finish a novel?
Mark: As I have a little one and a full-time teaching job, I write in the wee hours while the wee one is asleep and the world outside still slumbers. As far as catching any daylight hours for writing, that I have to reserve for holiday time.
Jacqueline: Both of my children are now at university, so I will have much more time for writing the second book. However, when we wrote The Last Treasure of Ancient England I was also teaching full-time. While my daughter was studying for exams, I was writing.
Mark: As far as outlining is concerned, I would say that this is king. The more time you invest in this phase of the story the easier it will be to write and the less time lost at the drafting stage, making for a more coherent and fresh form when engaging your imagination to bring the story finally to life.And then timescale: this is our first novel and took four months to write the first draft. Then a further three months to write the second and during the next twelve months further revisions were constantly being after readers’ suggestions and comments. Then we went to print.
5) Where do you see yourself within your career in the next five years?
Mark: The path is clear in that respect. We have a series: The Chester Bentley Mysteries to write and so the next five years will be given over to completing this collection of mystery novels and we are relishing in the prospect.
6) Do you believe that there is ever a point in life where it’s too late for an aspiring writer to become successful in this industry? Do you feel a late start would hinder their chances?
Mark: I hope not, I’m no spring chicken, weighing in at 46 years, so we’ll see. But very often you need time and wisdom on your side to produce a work of worth. It’s not like a professional athlete, where youth is prerequisite. You’re telling me that a 20 year-old regularly knocks out works like Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption, Orwell’s Animal Farm or Cervantes’ Don Quixote? Certain works require certain experience and age. You can get a good Crianza when it comes to wine but better to save your money up for a Gran Reserva.
7) What’s the first book you ever read that really touched you emotionally and moved you? What’s the first book you read that made you know that you could do this for a career? What book are you currently reading?
Mark: The first book that really amazed me was Shakespeare’s Macbeth, made readily accessible by our English teacher. But much later as a young adult Angela’s Ashes is the book that comes to mind, that is poignant in many ways and a brave work. It encapsulates more than any other CS Lewis maxim that ‘we read to know we are not alone.’ But of course the book that most UK kids of my generation would have been introduced to at an early age and would have impressed them the most would surely have to be the Old Testament, now that’s quite some story… sorry fact.At present I am reading Captain Bligh’s log, detailing his journey to Timor after he and his men were set adrift, following the mutiny on the Bounty.
Jacqueline: I think the first book that really touched me emotionally was The Railway Children, and the way that the siblings pull together to prove their father’s innocence after his arrest. But the first book that made me want to be a writer was Enid Blyton’s Five go to Smuggler’s Top. I’ve always got a book on the go and am currently reading One small act of kindness by Lucy Dillon, it’s a welcome respite after a day spent researching.
8) So many writers say that they hate reading their own work? Do you ever just sit down and curl up with your own book?
Mark: I read it only to improve it. I could never sit down and read my own novel, even any of my past non-fiction books, which serve as reference material. That is not because I do not think they are worthy reads, it is simply that I would prefer to put that time to better use and write my next book.
Jacqueline: I will certainly curl up with The Last Treasure of Ancient England in the future, but at the moment I am keen to get on with the next book.
9) What are your thoughts about how the publishing industry is drastically changing? Are you more of an e-book person or a traditional book person?
Mark: If our novel turns out to be a success then it will serve as proof that a change is necessary, but this is only in the respect that more people are able to bypass the gatekeepers to getting published and into the public realm.
It also means that more people can have a significant hobby if nothing else.
Personally, I prefer to have a book in hand and that is why I always strive to produce an attractive work. That is the added value of purchasing and possessing a book over downloading it. Sometimes, however, it is more convenient to have an ebook, especially for research purposes. You don’t always want to pay top dollar for something that, while being entertaining, may not be all that memorable.
10) I feel like so many of us writers, us artists in general, are made to conform to other people’s idea of what we should be. I think we creative types should be unafraid to be whoever it is that we feel we have the right to be. So what is your write 2 be? What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity?
Mark: Our book was written to be a unique voice and satisfy our own personal desire for an intriguing mystery; the sort of thing we long for in either print or to see on the silver screen, but rarely find. But it does not conform to industry standards in word length nor style. As a result the final product is not standardized and contains a unique worth, in that the young reader will enjoy a literary style the experts deem they are interested in, or be carried along to the end of a story considered too long for them. The battle scenes do not concede to the fanciful notion of ‘war is fun and fitting for boys’ either, and instead turns the tide of recent novels that only encourage such violence. We make no complaints of such scenes being served up in tinted images and lashings of pages, but the moment a bit of reality creeps in then this is unacceptable!