Megan L. Anderson
Britfield and the Lost Crown
How would you like to soar above England’s most lauded landmarks in a hot air balloon, dodging danger and uncovering history’s best kept secrets along the way? Author C. R. Stewart invites readers along for just such an adventure in his new young adult novel Britfield and the Lost Crown. Having read a generously provided advance copy, I can assure fellow anglophiles of any age that they are in for a treat.
Weatherly Orphanage holds its residents hostage from every modern convenience – no computers, cell phones, or even contemporary books – and Tom has spent most of his life locked behind its walls. But what these orphans lack, they make up for in resourcefulness. When Tom discovers that he might have family after all, and royal blood at that, the orphans band together in helping him and his best friend Sarah escape Weatherly for good. Little do they know that one of Scotland Yard’s most famous detectives is personally invested in getting Tom back. A thrilling game of cat-and-mouse ensues running through stunning settings including Windsor Castle, Oxford University, Canterbury Cathedral, and the bustling streets of London.
Britfield and the Lost Crown is the first book in a series spanning many more countries and iconic landmarks. Curious about the series’ origins, I asked Stewart a few questions about his inspiration as a literature enthusiast, storyteller, and world traveler.
Several characters are named in a Dickensian fashion – their monikers describing their personalities – like the Grievouses, for example. The book also mentions other famous English authors. What stories or authors inspired you personally as a writer?
I am a Dickens fan: Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations. I liked how Dickens would take a variety of characters from all walks of life, seemingly unrelated, and somehow connect them at the end, so I did have fun inventing names as a tribute to Dickens and a way to define my characters: Detective Gowerstone, Speckle, Dr. Beagleswick, Professor Hainsworth, Blackwell. I am a huge Brontë fan (Elizabeth, Anne, and Charlotte), these haunting, gothic novels. I have read their books and actually visited their home (right next to a graveyard, oddly enough). That had a profound effect. Jane Austen is another. I lived in England (off and on) for two years, and spent a year in Hampshire, about four miles from her house. It would be hard to write a book about England without knowing it, walking it, and living there. Some younger books would be The Mouse and the Motorcycle, James and the Giant Peach, and The Hardy Boys. I am also a C. S. Lewis fan.
As readers follow Tom and Sarah’s travels, they come across allusions to other stories like Pride and Prejudice. Were there any allusions you wanted to include that didn’t make it into the book?
I did. I wanted to include hints of other books, like Dicken’s Pickwick Papers, Jane Austen and others, but it just did not fit, did not work or interrupted the story.
The story almost serves as a tourist guide to several of England’s most iconic landmarks. How did you choose which locations to incorporate?
I write about everywhere I have visited, what I remember from that place, the impact and impressions—it often brings more life to the scene. It’s hard, because there are so many places I wanted to include, but I chose quality over quantity. I was able to touch on the Lake District (the Romantics) and the Churchill estate, which I visited on my 35th birthday. Oxford is key, because it is the academic lifeblood of British history (history/impact/prestige); Windsor Castle, the seat of monarchy; London, the heart of the country, including banking; and Canterbury, the religious influence. This is a theme that will play out in all the Britfield books.
Did you draw any part of Tom and Sarah’s experiences from your own travels?
I did. They went where I went. I had tea at the Brown’s Hotel, and stayed at the Dukes Hotel, I love Hyde Park. They walked in my footsteps. Also, Sarah is based on someone I know; Tom embodies some of my characteristics (his gumption/humor).
One of the book’s themes is widening perception (of places, people, history, institutions, etc.) Characters are not always as they seem. History runs deeper than textbooks suggest. How important do you think that theme is to foster in young people today?
The theme is huge to foster in young people. Not everything is what it seems. One must question everything (always be a student of life), research things for themselves, come to their own conclusions. The last thing we need in America is brainless sheep following the Pied Piper: Always be open to new ideas or different opinions, debate, discuss, and dig deeper. As a historian in many ways, I love reading about history. I have been on a 3-year biography stint: Elizabeth the Great, Peter the Great, Mary, Queen of the Scots, Elizabeth I, Napolean, Oppenheimer, Alexander Hamilton, Da Vinci, Beethoven. If the book is not 600-800 pages, I am not interested. I like to dig in, learn all about the history and surroundings, let alone the individual.
What did you find most challenging about writing this book? What came the most naturally?
It takes a long time to properly write a book, years. I did a great deal of research, I piloted (roundtable) my 3rd draft manuscript with hundreds of students (getting feedback). Prior to the engagement, each student was given a manuscript, had three weeks to read it and then fill out a 2 ½ page survey. After collecting the surveys, I went to the school and did 45-minute roundtables with 3-5 students at a time. Based on feedback and roundtables, I improved or elaborated on specific areas, tailoring the book to the audience. Britfield scored a 9.03 out of a possible 10.
And I edited, over and over again. It takes around 4-6 hours for every finished page. So a 200 page book will take you 1000 hours. There is no real way around this fact. As you get better, you are more meticulous, refined.
The storytelling came naturally. I have been writing movie scripts since I was 18/19. I learned to properly structure a story, based on the 3-Act Structure. And I love storytelling. I made the book fun, adventurous, with heart. I always move the characters along (except at the beginning), so they are never in the same place, always moving. This throws them off balance (along with the reader). They never have a chance to reset or come back to a familiar place. They are usually only at a new place for 24 hours, then off to the next location.
For any aspiring authors inspired by Britfield and the Lost Crown, what advice do you offer them?
Write what you know and write about what you love, it’s a long journey. Also, do the very best you can and never settle. Be open to others’ insight, have your work reviewed, take many notes, be willing to change a few things if they don’t work, be in it for the long haul, and trust the story. Creating a book is 10% writing (original work) and 90% rewriting (editing). If you do something, do it well or don’t do it at all. And finally, you want to become the best writer “you can be;” your style, not another writer. Find your own voice and what makes you unique. Maybe it’s humor, maybe it’s the way you see things, maybe it’s the way you describe things.
What do you hope young people take away from reading this book and the series to follow?
That life is a wonderful adventure. That there are so many places to see, visit. That along with bad people, there are wonderful people, willing to help and make sacrifices. And most of all, the importance of family. My main theme that runs through all of the books is family.
Britfield and the Lost Crown, though it doesn’t release until August, has already received multiple honors including an International Book Award and Reader’s Favorite. Readers can also look forward to the film adaptation which is currently in the works. Order your copy of the book and join Tom and Sarah’s epic adventure by visiting www.britfield.com.