The Medieval Monk interviews Matthew Harffy about the plan to bring his 7th-century hero to the small screen
The Medieval Monk (MM): Blessed one! How be you since we last spoke, oh how many years ago now? Three?
Matthew: Actually it was four years ago, I believe!
MM: Well, I understand a great deal has happened since our interview. If I remember rightly, at the time you had successfully self-published two novels, set in the seventh century, but also had just been signed by a publishing house, and apparently you have hardly had time to draw breath since then. Is that so?
Matthew: That’s right. I’ve done quite a bit of writing since then. Book seven of the Bernicia Chronicles, Fortress of Fury, will be published in July this year and I am currently working on the edits of the first book of a new series, A Time for Swords, that will be out at the end of the year. In addition to the six currently published novels in the Bernicia Chronicles, I have also written a stand-alone novel set at the beginning of the ninth century called Wolf of Wessex. So yes, I have been busy!
MM: Oh, the heavens above! At this rate I feel I may need to adopt the blessed Alcuin’s position: Quid enim Beobrandus cum Christo? [‘What has Beobrand to do with Christ?’], but then again, we all need a little light relief in our troubled times, do we not?
Matthew: Indeed we do.
MM: Now, I understand you are hoping to bring your very first novel, The Serpent Sword, into moving-picture form, via an apparatus known in your timeline as the tele-vision, which, if my understanding of Greek and Latin etymologies serves me right, means something like ‘seeing from a distance’.
Of course, we don’t yet have one of these wizardrous machines in my monastery, but nevertheless please enlighten me and my brethren, and of course my blessed readers, about your project.
Matthew: Yes, it is all very exciting! We have been working on the project for about a year now and have only recently told the public what we are doing. The plan is to put together a proof-of-concept trailer that will show off the story and the filmmakers’ abilities in order to secure funding for the full series.
We have so far worked with no budget whatsoever, and none of the professionals involved have been paid, so we really hope the passion, talent, creativity and skill that has been poured into this project will pay off.
For anyone who would like a taste of things to come, there is a teaser of the trailer:
MM: So your desire is to bring to the world a living, breathing Beobrand – and let us not forget that young monk Coenred, too? What gave you the drive or impetus to want to do this?
Matthew: Well, I think it’s a dream of most writers to see their work made into film or TV, but until last year, that is all it was: a dream. I was approached at first by a fan of the books, James Faulkner, who asked me about the rights of the books and whether there were any plans to make them into a TV series or film. Initially, I was quite dismissive, but after a few chats it became clear that James was not only enthusiastic, but had contacts in the industry who, after a few discussions, jumped on board.
I have a new respect for television and film producers now, as I have been involved in every stage of the process up to now, from finding a scriptwriter, a wonderful writer called Greg Stewart; sourcing original music, from the talented Josh Evans; to casting some amazingly talented actors; not to mention all of the work involved in actually getting the material filmed and then promoting it via social media and the website and all the rest of it.
There are so many moving parts that it is very challenging to get anything done, especially when you are working with zero budget, but I cannot stress enough how amazing everybody in the team has been in pulling together to get this passion project off the ground. And even though I am biased, I really think the results are going to be incredible.
MM: Well, I do believe I am drooling with anticipation at the thought of all this wonder. Please forgive me.
Matthew: Do you have a handkerchief or some kind of cloth? I have to keep my two-metre social distancing from you, otherwise I would pass you a tissue. Ah, you anticipated me: your sleeve!
MM: Now, there are all sorts of twenty-first-century notions about early medieval life in England, some very well considered, some rather fanciful or misinformed. What’s your take on this, and how far do you want your story on screen to be authentic, shall we say?
Matthew: Our aim is to produce epic, exciting, gripping drama, without losing touch with the actual history we are depicting. We see absolutely no reason why characters cannot wear period-correct costumes, use the right weapons and even fight with the correct fighting styles, while still telling a spellbinding tale.
Given our non-existent budget for the proof of concept trailer, we have had to rely on reenactors – organised by the incredibly generous Matt Bickenson – for some of the fight scenes and weapons, which meant we could not be too picky if their swords were not perfect for the seventh century and were instead based on eighth or ninth century weapons, but where at all possible, we have striven for absolute accuracy.
This won’t mean a big deal to most viewers, but believe me, if we have had to use something anachronistic, we know about it and we have done so because of necessity due to our limited funds.
MM: May the Lord forgive you all.
Matthew: Thank you. I think.
MM: Pray, continue.
Matthew: The interiors for the proof-of-concept were filmed in the House of Wessex in Oxfordshire, a reconstructed seventh-century hall, and much of the decoration was lent to us by Matt Bunker of the group Wulfheodenas, who are specialists in the period.
We realise that when making television there will be limitations to what we can do. For example, it is most likely that if we get full funding and are able to feature horses in the series, the riders would use stirrups, despite there being no evidence for such in seventh century Britain.
This would merely be down to the fact that the vast majority of riders, and almost all actors, I would imagine, would be trained to ride with modern saddles and stirrups and it would be safer to use them. But where we can, we will endeavour to be true to the time period depicted in the books.
MM: So, Matthew, what is the expectation, or hope, you entertain with regard to this project? What happens next? And what would you really like to happen in the future?
Matthew: We have a pilot script written and a breakdown of the whole first season of the series. The season is basically the plot of The Serpent Sword novel, with some changes to make it work on the screen.
Along with the script and the breakdown, we are putting together the series treatment, concept art, storyboards, original music, and what is known as a series Bible, which we will use to pitch the project to distributors and production companies.
The next phase of the project is to complete filming for the proof-of-concept trailer, edit it, add post-production effects, professional sound mixing and original music, and then to launch the trailer on YouTube and other social media platforms.
MM: Ooh! Sounds like wonder and magic to me.
Matthew: Well, yes. And we really want the trailer to be shared and viewed as many times as possible and to build up a real buzz around the project. The teaser has been seen by about 25,000 people in the last month, so we have big expectations of the full trailer, which is going to look amazing. The plan is then to use the data of the number of views and people interested in the project to help us to get investors involved.
MM: So what kind of support can my blessed readers offer you? All sorts of folk read my blog posts, some a little strange, admittedly, but there are others who may have connections or can cheer you all on in some way.
Matthew: As mentioned, we really want to build up as much interest online as possible, so the more people that like our Facebook page, retweet out tweets, share and like our Instagram posts, and subscribe to our YouTube channel, the better.
I also have a Patreon page where people can subscribe to receive advance and exclusive information about my writing and the TV project. By joining as a patron, subscribers will help the project financially, too, as even without paying everyone, the costs rack up!
MM: I wonder if medieval monasteries are accepted on Patreon. Anyway, I have heard whispers in quiet corners that in preparation for your tele-vision project you have already donned your best fighting tunic, availed yourself of a shield – and, who knows, gripped your famous, spectacular seax, too. Can this be true?
Matthew: There was a photo circulating on Facebook of me with a shield and spear looking slightly moon-touched! People will have to go and look for it on The Serpent Sword Page. That picture was actually taken at the end of the day, but if I don’t end up on the cutting room floor, eagle-eyed viewers of the proof of concept trailer might see me in the shieldwall, or maybe even as a corpse on the battlefield!
MM: Oh, Lord help you! And may he also hand you and your tream many rich blessings on this wondrous project to bring Beobrand and your other characters to life on the tele-vision machine thing. Thank you, Matthew Harffy, for being interviewed by the Medieval Monk.
Matthew: Thank you, blessed and holy monk for inviting this lowly scribe into your inner sanctum. Your questions have been as insightful as I would have expected from such an august and intellectual host.
MM: Ah, you can come and be interviewed again, I think.