Thursday, 19 December 2013

Matt Costello and Neil Richards on Cherringham - A Murder for Every Month of the Year

Cherringham is an original eBook series of 12 self-contained murder mysteries written in a transatlantic collaboration between Neil Richards and Matt Costello.   Murder on Thames is the first in an innovative Crime series  written in English but published by Bastei Entertainment –  an imprint of one of Germany’s leading publishers  Bastei Lübbe. Published in English first, to be followed by German in March 2014, the crime series features 12  self-contained episodes written by co-authors Neil Richards  (UK based) and Matthew Costello (US based).
In a revival of the Dickensian tradition, a new eBook episode will be published each month with the  second episode Mystery at the Manor to be published  in the UK on the 19th January  2014. Cherringham is a quiet and peaceful town in the Cotswolds. Time moves slowly here, and nothing out of the ordinary ever happens, until one morning a woman’s body is discovered in the river. Sarah Edwards has just returned to Cherringham with her two children following the breakdown of her marriage. Sarah had been friends with Sammi Jackson – the woman in the river – before they both moved to London and she’s certain there is more to her death than meets the eye. But juggling the school run and her job as a web designer doesn’t leave much time  to solve murder mysteries.  After the death of his wife, former NYPD homicide detective Jack Brennan has retired to Cherringham hoping for a quiet life. He soon realises “peace and quiet” isn’t really him and, despite his misgivings, he’s persuaded by Sarah to help her look  into Sammi’s death. It quickly becomes clear that the case isn’t as simple as the police hope. From her violent ex-boyfriend to her alcoholic father, it seems everyone has something to hide. Sarah and Jack will need to use all their wits to get to the bottom of this case.  Small towns hold many secrets, and the quiet and peaceful Cotswolds’ town of Cherringham is no exception! Short but deadly thrilling, Murder on Thames introduces us to the unlikely crime sleuth duo single mother and web designer Sarah Edwards and retired NYPD homicide detective Jack Brennan as they look into the death of one of Sarah’s old school friends.   Thrilling, deadly and anything butcosy’, Murder on Thames brings together the unlikely crime sleuth duo Sarah and Jack for the first in the ongoing Cherringham crime series.

Neil: Matt and I have been writing together since we met in England as Writers in Residence in 1997 on what was in those days called a Multi-Media lab. We had a lot of fun – and discovered we shared a common vision of storytelling. So – when the lab finished, we decided to come up with some TV ideas and pretty quickly picked up some commissions. Since then we’ve worked on TV shows as co-writers; we’ve built interactive projects; created the worlds and scripts for many computer games; and travelled the world mentoring and lecturing on workshops and labs for all media.

Matt: Part of engaging in any great and challenging work, is…who you are doing it with. Some projects can last for years, and there can be creative issues that can have you looking at the four walls, clueless. Who’s in that room with you is important.  But when ideas flow, when you laugh as you build story and worlds, that’s more than rare. So—we started working together, not knowing where that work would lead.

Neil: Matt’s got a terrific pedigree as a horror and sci-fi novelist in the States and although he has in the past co-written books we just never seemed to get round to working on a book together. Last year however we were funded by Screen Australia to write a YA novel to be the heart of a cross-media project. It worked – and we found that our working process, refined over many years in TV, could be adapted to writing books.

Matt: And guiding someone to write prose, to build a novel for the first time, is not easy. I know, I have tried in the past. But having worked across so many platforms, I felt that Neil would totally grasp the challenge (and fun) of creating compelling fiction. The first result, our epic fantasy novel for Screen Australia, was the creative ride of a lifetime. With more to come…

Neil: So… we started to play with some UK-US crime ideas, trying to link the two worlds which separately we know well: New York City and rural England. I’d been working with Bastei so I suggested to Matt that we pitch them our ideas. We pitched the world, characters and stories of Cherringham as we would a TV series and Bastei liked it. They were looking for monthly episodic novellas – and the kind of story shapes we were proposing fit the bill. The commission came quickly – we started writing. It’s a tough schedule – but coming from a TV background that’s nothing new to us.

Matt: And the best thing – besides road trips to the Cotswolds to plot and plan -- the series we would create, Cherringham, would take advantage of who we are -- UK/US -- with our ability to see the other’s take on the world, and channel that into our lead characters.

Neil: Key to everything we do is nailing the ‘world’ of the show/book. We like to go live in the area we’re writing about – in this case the Cotswolds – and work intensively with whiteboards, A3 sheets, filling notepads with ideas for stories and characters. I think we’ve now hired three cottages in different Cotswold villages for a week at a time.  Bursts of two to three hours are followed by capturing everything in note form then sharing tasks. We used to tape-record and then transcribe but we find now that between us we can grab the key material. We walk a lot – and that’s often where the best ideas come from. We sit in pubs and tea-rooms and watch people. Of course, if you’re talking murder you have to keep your voice down…

Matt:  See there is where I disagree with my esteemed colleague. I like when people in a tea house hear us talking about poison, stabbings and ways to make fires look accidental. Though I guess it can be disconcerting when patrons decide to move to a more distant table.  In truth, there is nothing like being in the place where your story will evolve, --walking, thinking, talking. It is perhaps why a collaboration done like that is both a great and a different kind of writing ‘experience’.

Neil: We spend a lot of time hammering out the story shape in note form and then use index cards so we can shuffle the story-beats around – which is pretty much the standard method that any TV writers will recognize. One of us hits the opening chapters – and then we just trade the chapters until the book’s done. I get his chapters, do an edit, then hit the next couple and send them back. He edits and carries on.  With the UK-US time difference this means that when we’re really flowing we can cover the ground extremely quickly!

Matt: We have indeed learned how to use the time difference between us. And when questions or glitches emerge, Skype stands at the ready. And then it’s almost like we’re strolling a Roman Road again, past cow pastures, discussing all the cozy mayhem we’re going to bring to Cherringham.

Neil: We’ve always been pretty good at finding a shared prose voice and the constant internal editing process helps smooth that too.  One area where we do differ is in the planning.  Matt prefers a flexible plan – and he likes to hit the pages fast and see where the story runs within a loose structure. I like to get the chapters and story-beats worked out beforehand so I know exactly where I’m going. We agree to disagree on that one and so far the combination has worked out fine.

Matt: The different approaches probably reflect our different writing backgrounds. I have been known to start a novel with one very cool idea, and not much else. As a solo writer, that works fine but how do you get a collaborator to share that ‘ride’? That’s where the more structured method of TV (and games for that matter) becomes very useful. Also, I think we have struck a balance of locking the story down but still letting the characters stand up, and suddenly take the tale in a direction we did not see coming at all.

Neil: We’ve really fallen in love with Cherringham and its characters. It’s based on a combination of three Cotswold villages (and no, there are no prizes on offer yet for guessing which) and we’ve drawn our own map down to street level so we don’t lose track of who lives where. So far – half way through the series – we’ve got around 60 characters (less the handful who have met a miserable end of course).

Matt: What—no prizes? As a game guy, I’d love to see who could figure out which three villages. But Neil is so right when he talks about loving the village. True, a lot of mayhem does occur there, but what lovely views! And – with quite a nice posh restaurant with an assortment of pubs for every taste.

Neil: I think the series works well as a cosy. The story engine of the village and the single-mum/ex-cop combination generates lots of stories – and the rules of the genre mean we can get away with quite a staggering murder rate.  

Matt: And as Sherlock well knew, a murder isn't always a murder (just as a hound isn’t always a hound.)

Neil: Meanwhile we both continue to write separately and as a team. Matt’s sci-fi novel Star Road is about to be published in the US. And last week the fifth in the Broken Sword game series was released – with script and story from me.  As well as the remainder of Cherringham series to write during the coming year, we have a YA novel which we want to pitch in February. We also have the second and third in the Australian YA series to write if the production company out there gets the go-ahead.
We also have a much darker crime story which we’ve begun to plot – again with a UK-US background. Cosy it ain’t…

Matt: And won't that be fun…after 1200 pages+ of coziness and corpses, to drill down into darker territory? I -- for one -- can hardly wait.

Co-authors Neil Richards (based in the UK) and Matthew Costello (based in the US), are known for their script work on major computer games. The Cherringham crime series is their first fictional transatlantic collaboration.  Matthew has written and designed dozens of bestselling games including the critically acclaimed The 7th Guest, Doom 3, Rage and Pirates of the Caribbean. He is also the author of a number of successful novels, including Vacation (2011) and Beneath Still Waters (1989), which was made into a movie. Neil has worked as a producer and writer in TV and film, creating scripts for BBC, Disney, and Channel 4, and earning numerous Bafta nominations along the way. He’s also written script and story for over 20 video games including The Da Vinci Code, and consults around the world on digital storytelling.

More information about Matt Costello can be found on his website - 

1 comment:

Michael Chartres said...

I am reading your Cherringham series. Good fun and I am sure I know one of the locations as there are only two toll bridges over the Thames. One is Whitchurch, where my daughters live and the other Swinbourne. It is not Whitchurch.
Well done. Great little stories. Thanks
Michael Chartres