Literary treasure hunters set to search for lute: Book offers pounds 250,000 for whoever solves clues. Marianne Macdonald reports

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A QUARTER of a million pounds will be concealed somewhere in England at the end of this month to coincide with the publication of Treasure, a literary hunt inspired by Kit Williams's immensely successful Masquerade, the book which set the nation hunting for a golden hare using clues hidden in its illustrations.

Publishers hope the trend will be repeated with the launch of Treasure on 29 September. It is written and illustrated by a carpenter using the pseudonym Dan James. He refuses to reveal his real name for fear he will be subjected to the constant pestering for clues endured by Mr Williams.

Mr James, the author of two previous smaller-scale treasure hunts and the founder of the Armchair Treasure Hunt Club, will only be photographed in disguise and give interviews at neutral locations.

His book is narrated by a minstrel called Tallifer who played William the Conqueror into battle. The story tells how he concealed treasure in five counties in Middle England - Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire - before his death at the Battle of Hastings.

It gives clues in the text and pictures which lead the reader to eight gold coins located in each county. The coins reveal the site of a county prize and of a bronze lute key. The person who finds all five county keys will discover a sixth key which opens Tallifer's lute and reveals the prize - pounds 250,000 in cash within a year of publication, pounds 150,000 within two years, and pounds 50,000 after that.

The prize is funded by the East Midlands Tourist Board and Ordnance Survey, which is producing official maps. Bob Collier, chief executive of the East Midlands Tourist Board, said: 'Our motivation is to improve tourism. We've been planning this for two years and believe that through careful planning all of the problems of previous treasure hunts can be overcome.'

The hardback book follows the pattern set by Masquerade, which tantalised millions by offering clues to the location of a buried golden hare set with precious stones. It was found in 1982 by Dugald Thompson, from Kimbolton, Cambridgeshire, a discovery that ended two-and-a-half years of frantic searching by almost 2 million people.

Mr Williams made an estimated pounds 500,000 from the book, which sold a million copies. The hare pendant, which cost pounds 700 to make, was sold for pounds 31,900 at Sotheby's in 1988.

The publicity company acting for Treasure's publisher, Studio Editions, said Mr James had the idea for the book after seeing an advertisement for a 1984 treasure hunt launched by Cadbury's, which buried 12 golden eggs worth pounds 10,000 each across Britain to promote creme eggs.

'This large billboard caught his eye. It had two eggs on it, one in chocolate, one in gold and the writing underneath suggested there was a pot of gold to be found. He spent the next 36 hours with his thermos looking for the egg.'

The publicity firm refused to give details about precisely how the latest hunt would work. But it stressed that all the clues would be hidden above ground after complaints that the treasure hunters inspired by Cadbury dug up private property and National Trust land in their hunt for buried treasure.

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