Today I am delighted to take part in Clink Street’s Spring Reads 2018. I had the pleasure of reading book one of The Finder Series: The Shield by C. J. Bentley and I can’t wait to see more of this middle grade gem hit the shelves! Plus, I also have the pleasure of sharing an in-depth Q &A that offers oodles of goodies and tidbits about C. J. Bentley, the series and what is to come. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did, as it was the perfect kick-off to the spring reading season.
People lose their belongings. That is a fact of life. It can happen by accident, but sometimes it can happen when you put them in a very safe place and forget where that safe place is. Not many people are good at finding them again.
A young, gutsy girl with a kind heart, who’s searching for her own identity growing up in the 1960s, just happens to be very good at finding things. Can she be the one to help return whatever is lost – anywhere and at any time – to its original owner?
With the help of a beautiful yet mysterious wise woman and a chivalrous knight she does just that. She finds and returns his shield, lost in battle, which unbeknown to her holds a secret that is important to his King, the safety of the Kingdom and the life of the daughter of his best friend.
The Shield is the first story in The Finder Series, taking our heroine on extraordinary journeys back in time. Her first adventure takes place in Medieval England in 1340 where she meets King Edward III, his wife Philippa and their son, who will later become the Black Prince.
Q & A
Just as a means of general introduction, would you mind starting off by telling us a little about yourself and your work as an author?
A northern girl, who after a career in teaching and child care, raising three sons and then whilst ultimately three grandchildren somehow ended up living in the Middle East for 12 years. Dubai for 8 years then Qatar for almost 2 then back to Dubai for another 2. It was whilst living in Doha and deciding not to work that I finally had time to nurture my children’s books that had been germinating in my mind for some years. I have always been fascinated by the idea of time travel and with a love of history the two seemed to be the format for my series of books. I didn’t want to write about the usual curriculum periods of history, I wanted to take my readers to places that might spark a love of history that hopefully might stay with them for life.
(Think Enid Blyton meets Philippa Gregory).
Which is harder: writing for YA and middle grade readers, or adults?
I guess that will be easier to answer when I have written the adult fiction that is simmering around in my brain with notes already made but on hold until after the series I have started is finished. As I started to write ‘The Finder Series’ when my youngest grand-child was eight, (due to the lack of online stories for me to read to him at bedtime that didn’t include zombies, vampires or farts) I had his age and that of my other two grandchildren, (at the time ten and twelve) in mind. It was after completing books one and two and taking them into my old school in Dubai to read to year five children just to check if I had pitched them at the right level, (not admitting they had been written by me) and from the feedback emailed to me by their class teacher I decided to pursue publishing.
What is the most important thing that people DON’T know about your subject/genre, that they need to know?
The most important thing my readers need to know about my genre is that the characters expand in each book, the main characters age by one year as each book takes place at the start of the summer holidays. This has been interesting to write from a mother’s perspective and a teacher’s perspective, thank heavens I have a good memory and my grand-children of the differing ages to draw from. I am currently writing book four, with the protagonist at the age of fourteen, the current age of my second grand-daughter. She is growing up, a teenager, yet I must be careful when writing about the changes she is encountering in both body and character as some readers of a younger age may be starting to read the books. A fine ‘balancing act’ of writing is required to describe the changes in a sympathetic way without getting too explicit. By keeping the main characters the same, especially those growing up in the sixties the continuity of the books, (I think readers like a little continuity with characters they may associate with) and introduction of important issues of the time, including music which was very important to young people, helps to weave what life was like at that time. The characters in the period of history were people who actually existed, this made the research more believable for me and hopefully more believable for the reader. As a writer, we can research what happened to historical characters but can only speculate about what they were actually like as a personality. I find this interesting, so by putting Napoleon Bonaparte into a situation as a young man, (in the second book, ‘The Miniature’) where he has to use his abilities as a strategist and organiser whilst being subjected to comments about his lack of height, was something I felt some of my readers might associate with). I like to expand the readers knowledge for those who are interested by including a little ‘history stuff’ as the back of the books.
Is writing book series more challenging?
Writing a series of books is a challenge and yet whilst writing the first book I found I was thinking about the second and so on. The last book which will answer any questions the reader may want answering was also in my mind whilst writing the first one. The continuity of the characters and the way they are maturing is the challenging thing to write about but luckily, I make extensive notes, which are referred to as I write. All notes are made for the ‘bones’ of books five and six and book seven will end the series. The fourth book, ‘The Ring’, (lost by an Arabian princess), is currently being written and I am itching to get back into it and by the middle of March I will be back in my writing place, our beautiful house in France. I go into ‘my space’ which is what I call it when I write, I love this creative time when I really don’t know where the characters are going to go and do. It is like I get taken over by something within me and these books just have to be written! All very exciting.
I love the idea of The Finder series being set in the recent past, why and how did you settle on the 1960s?
It was an easy decision to write about the period of the sixties, it was when I grew up and as a writer I believe you must write about what you know. It was also an important time for children, the birth of the teenager. Freedom to play. To take a picnic and disappear for hours, to use one’s imagination to keep ourselves amused. We were extremely lucky to be given that freedom. Living in Dubai and mixing with children out there, it is even more noticeable that young children are given lots of material things but lack the freedom to play outside, for only four months of the year, due to the extreme hot weather, it is impossible for them. Some parents too are unavailable due to work commitments and the TV, Playstation and the Ipad, not to mention their phones become their main sources of entertainment.
Do you want each book in The Finder series to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I am writing each book in the series to be its own story set in the time she is taken back to, yet at the same time trying to ‘grow’ the characters so each book leads on to the next with regards the sixties period. As children grow they collect life skills, so the protagonist learns to ride horses and speak French in the first book. She uses her French and learns to cook in the second book, (which by the way includes a recipe). In the third, ‘The Letter’ set in 1630 in New England and following a storm at sea, the ship she is travelling in blows off course and they go ashore and meet with Native American Indians. They teach her to track for food, successfully fire bow and arrows and overcome a fear of heights, (along with plucking and cooking the turkey she kills) and so on as the series grows. In the fourth book, currently being written I have just taken her back to 1330 in the desert somewhere in the Middle East, I don’t know yet where and what the adventure is but the characters she meets are all planned out.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I spend quite a long time researching the period the main protagonist finds herself in. The first book seemed to draw me towards the period of Medieval England and when I decided she was to be ten years and four months old and it was to be based in York, the fact that Edward the third and his Queen Philippa were married in York Minster in 1326 and their first-born son, Prince Edward was born in 1328 it made Prince Edward the perfect choice to be the friend of the girl who was kidnapped. It all sort of fell into place and so the story and adventure grew. The second book set in France at the time of the Revolution took me longer to research as both Louis the sixteenth, Marie Antoinette and Napoleon Bonaparte were all characters with lots written about them. I try to make sure that facts check out and if I feel the facts need to be slightly altered by the time in which they actually occurred then an author’s note is written by way of explanation. Book Four in the series, ‘The Ring’, currently being written, has taken and is still taking lots of research, as one of the main characters, Ibn Batutta, has many interesting books written about his life and journeys.
What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?
The question I gave to the publisher whilst pursuing the publication of the first book in the series regarding the people who actually lived that I had written about was, ‘Will I have to give a disclaimer for their personalities and characters I have enlarged?’ His reply to me was that especially for the first book the length of time they had been dead was such that it was not nor could be an issue.
Can you share some stories about people you met while researching this book?
I visited Preston Hall Museum following publication of the first book in the summer of 2017. Whilst there I chatted to a curator about finding a shield in Hartburn Beck as a ten years old which sparked the writing of the first book. I chose to put it back and wondered what might have happened if we had kept it. My imagination then took over and ‘The Shield’ was written. She very kindly gave me the email addresses of some eminent Archaeologists from the area who confirmed that the area was known to have Medieval settlements and could easily been the siting of major battles between the English and the Scots. I hope to try again to find the original shield but need more men with spades and a much better metal detector. The interview with Mike Parr on Radio Tees was interesting before the shield hunt and especially the interview following the shield hunt, which failed due to a child’s metal detector, awful weather, not to mention my falling in the beck. (Something that used to happen often when a youngster so wasn’t unexpected).
What did you edit out of this book?
As the publisher did a copy editing of ‘The Shield’ it gave me the final say in what to take out, or what to alter. Apart from slight differences in punctuation very little was changed. I do edit my books myself many times, reading them out loud to make sure the punctuation is accurate. (I am the sort of person who cleans the house before the cleaner comes).
What can we expect to see in the future of this series?
Book one in ‘The Finder Series’ is ‘The Shield’, set in 1340 in Medieval England, book two is ‘The Miniature’ set in Paris during the French Revolution in 1792. Book three is titled, ‘The Letter’, set in New England during 1630. All are completed and edited by me. Book four is ‘The Ring’ set in the Middle East in 1330 and featuring Ibn Batutta. Books five and six are still in the planning stage although the bones of them are jotted down but book seven will be the final in the series and will answer a lot of the questions the reader might have. I have lots of ideas for further books both for middle school age and for adults.
And now on to some fun and general questions to close things out!
What is your favorite childhood book?
My favourite childhood book is ‘The Wind in the Willows’. One endearing memory is of Miss Allen, our year five teacher, reading this book to us on a Friday afternoon. She was a wonderful teacher and dramatic reader of books and we all loved Friday afternoons especially if the dangled carrot of an extra half hour of reading if we had managed to finish the weeks work was obtained. Her rendition of Toads discovery of his love of cars, where he sat in the middle of the road saying, ‘Poop poop, poop poop’ is still with me. I have always tried to emulate her when reading to young children in the hope that it might pass on a love of reading to the audience.
Who’s your childhood literary superhero?
I was born too soon to be into superheroes like Superman and Batman so my heroes were from books I read and early TV programmes. Kidnapped, Treasure Island, The Coral Island, Ivanhoe and Children of the New Forest were all read from cover to cover many times. Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, William Tell and The Lone Ranger were all copied in our imaginative games but my real hero in life is somebody I feel I have grown up with and know very well although we have never met. He figures in my book as he did in my life and those of my generation and still does thank heavens, that person is Sir David Attenborough. A true giant of men and my superhero extraordinaire.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel? What do you like to read in your free time?
My favourite understated novel is a tricky one to answer, I am a member of a book club in France where I live, used to be for the summer months only but from the end of March it will be my full-time address. As I lived in Dubai my reviews of the books we read were all online by email. As a relatively new member of the group my input for new reading was not asked for, until now. One of the books we read as part of the group was ‘Glorious Heresies’ a book about social problems for a family living in Cork in Ireland. This book made me think and I like that about reading, when a book makes you laugh out loud, cry or think then the writer has done his or her job. I did not know a lot about drugs and learnt a bit from reading this book. It was a book I felt would be important as a social diary of our times just as people read Dickens if they want to know about Victorian England. My suggested book for the book club to review is a book about Lord Byron’s daughter Ava Lovelace. She was responsible for discovering the first algorithms. I travel a lot and use my Kindle whilst travelling to read. I love finding books for free, some which quite frankly have been totally uninteresting yet some I have discovered and loved and read again. I still like to reread books I have loved, almost anything by Jane Austin, Thomas Hardy and of course Dickens who I love from years gone by and more recent writers my favourites are Sebastian Faulks and Ian McKewan. I have recently finished ‘The Child in Time’ which I loved. I don’t like to read books with numerous characters. I hope to have taken that on board as a writer myself. Keep your characters small in number and describe them well is my most important lesson.
If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
If I could have written any book and why is an easy one to answer. I read, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ in one day whilst on holiday in Oman. I enjoyed ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khallad Hosseini, which is probably the more well-known of his books but I truly loved, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’. I started to read it at 8am and finished it at 5pm with a short lunch break where I grabbed a sandwich. I lived that life. That is what a book should do, transport you to the world and life of the characters within. As a woman, wife, mother and grandmother the writer, (a man) managed to convey how women think, (my husband would say no mean feat, he would also add could he please share with the rest of the men in the world). An important book with a message of kindness and hope.
And finally, if you were to create a reading list for YA readers (or librarians!) what books would you include?
I would recommend anything by Roald Dhal a must for every child and every adult who reads him. All the classics, Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Jungle Book, Anne of Green Gables, Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Little Women, The Coral Island, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Tolkien, Children of the New Forest…..etc etc Harry Potter has his place and he has got children reading again, all good but reading is an individual choice and we are all different with different tastes so fill the libraries with everything and give the world choices.
Thank you C.J. Bentley for the amazing and in-depth responses!
I have been reading a LOT of middle grade fiction for work lately, and this is one of the few new series that has actually got me chomping at the bit to get it into the library – ASAP!
I loved the creative blend character development and history as it created an enjoyable balance that really pulled the story forward. And I especially adored how the series was set in the sixties where kids genuinely played outside all day, were allowed to roam the neighbourhood and call on friends houses without pre-arranged playdates, and had the agency to walk an hour to the creek with a picnic lunch. Seriously, it made me want to turn back time, grab my fishing pole, and head down to the creek – those were the days!
But more than anything, I loved the inherent innocence of the characters. I’ve been noticing more and more that there is a distinct divide between children’s lit and teen lit, where characters jump from being kids to suddenly having romantic interests and being occupied by nothing else. The Shield however, falls perfectly into the middle ground where the characters are growing up but the plot isn’t occupied by cookie-cutter tropes, and for that alone this baby is a bit of a unicorn.
The blend of history and fiction was utterly engaging, and offered as much education as it did humour. I really enjoyed the commentary on medieval bathing habits, food and drink, the process of sending missives, and the workings of the English court. Admittedly, I did have a good giggle at the idea of a knight ‘jumping up’ on a horse in a full suit of armour, but I was willing to forgive it as this book was so much fun. And while the story is chalk full of facts, there is enough imagination to keep alive the romantic ideas of the medieval period that children hold close to.
I was a little on the fence with the kids not being able to remember the people from the past, but I guess that’s what makes everything so interesting. The situations add context to the morals and lessons shared by Eleanor, and the moments after forgetting inject a little lightness into some of the weightier situations. One thing I wasn’t on the fence about though, was Eleanor’s decision not to watch the traitor’s punishment. It was refreshing to see a character that didn’t revel in the misery of others. Plus, the omission of such details helped to keep The Shield age appropriate.
Finally, I was really drawn to the diversity in Eleanor’s friend group. Each has their own distinct personality, interests, and contribution to the group dynamic. The writing as a whole celebrates and encourages individuality and the pursuit of varied interests. I didn’t get the feeling that there were any token characters or hangers-on, and I am excited to see how the group will grow and change in the future – especially since they will age a year between each instalment!
Would I recommend this book? Oh, that would be a 5* yes! I am desperate to have The Shield and all that follow in my school library, and can’t wait for my copy to arrive in the post. It’s fun, witty, and perfect for adventure loving kids.
About the author: Originally heralding from the North of England, C.J Bentley has travelled extensively and enjoyed living in a variety of countries across the world from Dubai to Doha, Qatar and now the countryside in the South of France. A background in teaching and childcare she has always enjoyed creating adventure short stories. However, it was when she became a grandma and with her grandchildren growing up that she discovered that books seemed to contain only stories of vampires, zombies and farts that she decided seriously to take matters into her own hands and put pen to paper which today she calls The Finder Series.
Website – https://www.cjbentleyonline.co.uk/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/CJBentleyAuthor/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/CJBentleyAuthor
Many thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Authoright Marketing & Publicity for arranging this blog tour, and to C. J. Bentley for taking the time to provide such wonderful Q & A answers.