Interview with Cherringham Authors Matt Costello and Neil Richards
Tell us a bit about yourselves.
Matt: I’ve been a writer of novels, games, and scripts since 1987. I’ve also taught for decades, mostly classes for children identified as Gifted and Talented. Along with my wife, Ann, I’m a Board Member of the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality disorder which is dedicated to removing stigma and bringing help and support to those families dealing with mental illness (NEABPD.com). I jog, am fairly serious about cooking, scuba dive and travel a lot.
Neil: I came to writing late in the day. I worked in films and TV as a development exec for years mid-wifing other people’s projects, itching to write but never having the confidence. But I was lucky – I worked alongside some great writers and had tons of fun in movie world (some of which will remain secret!)… Eventually I plucked up courage and started and have now written a lot of TV, radio, games, interactive – much of it in partnership with Matt. (He lives in NY by the way, while I live in the South of England.) Matt then persuaded me to write novels – I love it. I live with my wife Annie (who I also co-write kids’ TV with) and have two sons. I escape the noise 8am sharp every morning and work in a little office in the garden.
What inspires your writing?
Matt: I want to do to others as those who inspired, rocked and shocked me did…..from Bradbury to Bloch. Inspiration? Everything that I see, hear, experience goes in…(I believe). What comes out, though, is often something else, and I love that.
Neil: Same as Matt. Fragments of conversation, people I meet, stories I hear. Anything that makes the hairs on the back of my neck go… And then once an idea is up and running, yes, the whole of ‘a life lived’ tends to find its way subconsciously into the stories. Of course, it’s true – once the characters are in play they take over and often dictate the action.
Where did the idea for Cherringham come from?
Matt: Neil had been talking to people at Bastei Luebbe who wanted to create an episodic cosy mystery series, set in the UK. We on our own had been discussing a different kind of sleuthing ‘team’, so as talks went along we started to work on a small outline of what would become Cherringham, anchored by the fact that the team would be the retired NYPD detective, Jack Brennan, working with single mum, Sarah Edwards.
Neil: It was good timing – Bastei asked and we had an outline back to them within a couple of weeks. We wrote the outline just as we’d write a pitch for a TV series – and in fact we’ve always wanted the stories to feel like you’re watching a one-off TV episode. Jack and Sarah forced their way in – almost as if Matt and I both knew them as friends – and the full lives and backgrounds we gave them sprang from their characters quickly. Cherringham itself came from our research in the Cotswolds, an area I know pretty well and love.
What was the writing process like as co-writers of this series, considering you are based in different countries?
Matt: It has its challenges. But then we have collaborated on a wide range of projects, some of major complexity and scope, so this didn’t feel too challenging. That said, we have built in time for face-to-face research on all things Cotswolds and general plotting…cooking up murders as we stroll our (still secret) model villages. Oh—and Skype can be useful as well.
Neil: Time zones helps a lot. I fire a draft of a chapter to Matt and he can have it back edited overnight if we need. We’re lucky – we trust each other implicitly and communicate well. We laugh a lot and by some miracle share a sense of when a story is ‘right’.
What hurdles and highlights have you faced as a writer?
Matt: I’ve worked on three or four landmark projects, and those experiences and aftershocks have been amazing. Hurdles are…you work for yourself. There are good times, bad times, financially and creatively, One must learn to go….with the flow.
Neil: er… paying the bills? Good times come and go, feast or famine but that mortgage needs paying. We’ve put our hearts and souls into TV projects for instance which have fallen at the final hurdle when it’s big money and exec producers making the calls. Working in TV development I’ve always known that only a fraction of projects make it – so I’m always aware that the odds are against – and you have to make things happen if you love them.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Matt: Read tons. Writing is re-writing. Make the moment come alive in your mind, then for the reader. Master POV. Lose most adverbs, he said casually.
Neil: Start. Now. Don’t plan too much. Assume that what you write will never be the draft that you deliver – that takes the curse away of demanding too much from yourself. Being a writer is like playing a sport – you only get better by doing it. Over and over again, get the words out, don’t stop, get into the zone and let your imagination fly…
Who are some of your favourite authors?
Matt: Louis Auncincloss, Thomas Berger, Rober Block, HP Lovecraft, Agatha Christie, John Fowles, John Christopher, Max Hastings, Stephen King, Issac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heilein, Ernest Hemingway.
Neil: Some of the above (!). I really love Alan Furst at the moment. Donna Leon for cozy crime. Graham Greene for real writing. Douglas Adams (I was lucky enough to work with him for a few years.) Peter May for dark crime. Wodehouse for comedy. Lehane. Stephen King. William Boyd.
What other interests do you have?
Matt: My family. Other people’s families. And…cooking, hiking, diving, dinosaurs, the ancient world, a well-made martini, opera, Mahler, recreating major battles on what was once my dining room table.
Neil: I run, watch TV obsessively – drama, crime, news and sport, love travel and restaurants which are way above my pay-grade, cook, drink gin and tonic (but only after 8pm when I’m off the clock). I love the outdoors. In my teens I played international sport – and I love soccer. Family life is important too – I couldn’t write without that powerful emotional support.
What is the best advice you received in life? And what is your secret to success?
Matt: From the great Harlan Ellison…three core ideas about writing (hidden in the answers given already!) To obtain the secret to success, simply send ten crisp $100 bills to my address in a plain manilla envelope. But I will say this: try to let go of ego. Learn to love feedback and criticism. Embrace the process. And always be ready to move on.
Neil: The film Galaxy Quest gave me the best advice a writer will ever need – ‘Never give up! Never surrender!’ Otherwise – totally agree with what Matt says above… In truth I don’t feel I’ve yet had real success and maybe that’s another secret – stay hungry and always want more.
Are you currently working on any special projects, writing or other? Can you tell us a bit more about them?
Matt: I’m working on the third novel of the Vacation and Home series, and also working on a game tie-in to a major TV series. There’s an animated multi-platform project based in Tasmania that is in media res. And there are three more Cherringhams to write!
Neil: I just finished the game Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse and am just about to start on another animated series for kids. And Matt and I have a darker crime story we’re developing.
Photo © Wayne Matthews-Stroud
Neil Richards 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 Starship Titanic, co-written with Douglas Adams, and consults around the world on digital storytelling.
His writing partnership with NYC-based Matt Costello goes back to the late 90’s and the two have written many hours of TV together. Cherringham, the crime fiction series set in the Cotswolds, is their first crime fiction as co-writers.