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Friends pen series of stories about a fictional village

By Heather Large | Entertainment | Published:

Twenty years ago the only way for authors to get their books out into the world was through a traditional publishing house.

Writing partners - Mike Hands, who writes under the name Michael Braccia, from Wordsley and Jon Markes, from York.

But thanks to advances in technology and the rise of self-publishing today’s writers have different ways to reach their audiences.

Now things are evolving again, and just as television is becoming a medium that can be digested all at once, some writers are publishing their serial Leeford Village online one chapter at a time.

For friends Mike Hands and Jon Markes, things are even more unusual – they are taking it in turns to write a chapter, meaning their work can switch between genres and tones almost at the drop of a hat.

Mike will pen one part of the story before sending it to Jon, aged 57, who is originally from Wolverhampton but now lives in York.

He will edit it but only to correct grammar, spelling or continuity errors before continuing the story without telling his writing partner what happened.

Mike, aged 60, from Wordsley, will then carry out the same checks before writing the next episode and passing it back to his friend to continue.

The story is going backwards and forwards between them and so far they’ve penned around 18 episodes.

He says this style of writing makes for a unexpected surprise every time a new part is penned.

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“I haven’t found another example of people writing in the same way we do.” says Mike. “Writers collaborate but they tend to finish each chapter together.

“We made it a rule not to change each other’s story ideas. It means that I could start of a romance plot but then Jon could kill off one of the characters if he wanted although this hasn’t happened yet.

“The best thing about this work is the element of surprise.

“We have a number of threads running through the serial that evolved naturally in the first four or five episodes, but we develop the storylines independently, so before we receive an episode from each other we have no idea what is going to happen next.

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“It’s as if the characters themselves are driving their own stories,” he adds.

They describe the serial as “a cross between the 44 Scotland Street stories written by Alexander McCall Smith and The Archers but without the farming”.

It follows the lives of 31 characters living in the village, located in the fictional Midland town of Banfield.

Mike said he was inspired by 44 Scotland Street which was published as a serial in The Scotsman.

“Alexander McCall Smith is one of my favourite authors,” he adds. “44 Scotland Street is about the quirky lives of characters living on the same Edinburgh street. It’s got comedic moments but also serious ones too. It’s real life. It has a soap element but it’s not as hard hitting as something like EastEnders.”

For Leeford Village the writers have been inspired by the town of Kingswinford and have incorporated a lot of the local landmarks into their stories.

“It has a lot of the same shops, the fish and chip shop, the launderette and pub but we’ve changed the names so we have Billy’s Cafe instead of Jilly’s Cafe,” says Mike, who writes as Michael Braccia.

The pair’s storylines range from the light-hearted – such as the mystery of garden gnomes going missing – to more serious issues such as a retired headteacher’s battle with dementia.

“None of the characters are based on anyone we know or have known, the only thing based on real life is the location. Kingswinford is Leeford and Banfield is Dudley so Banfield General is Russells Hall Hospital,”says Mike.

The pair hope that by publishing the story an episode at a time they can whet the appetite of readers.

“We hope they say ‘we want more of this’. Eventually we would like to publish it as a book and for that we think we need around 45 episodes, each averaging 1,600 words.

“The idea would the tie up some of the storylines but leave some of them them open for the next book,” says Mike,who has previously self-published two books; the first a story about a man who has a son with autism and the other a collection of short stories.

He believes the pair’s novel way of writing together works well and also allows them time to work on other writing projects. “We’ve both got similar interests in writing and music, we’re both Wolves supporters and we’ve both got vivid imaginations,” says Mike.

To find out more about the project go to www.michaelbraccia.co.uk

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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