Saturday, 22 June 2013

Full steam ahead - and no going back

Everybody tells me that the best thing I can do as a writer is write a series.

I can understand why. You get your reader hooked and then they'll keep coming back, wanting to know exactly what happens next. You get them to build up a strong relationship with your characters, so they'll really care about what happens to them. It makes complete sense.

I'm just not quite sure if I can do it.

There's a couple of problems.

The first is that I have a really short attention span. By the time I'm halfway through something, my mind is already moving on to something new. I can barely keep the focus to work on one individual book, let alone a major project that involves three or more books.

The other problem relates to the way I develop my stories. As I've mentioned before, I call myself a plontser - which is something halfway between a plotter and a pantser. I usually have a broad idea about where my story is going, but I'm constantly filling in the details and making up a lot of stuff as I go.

This means that, especially with first drafts, I change my mind a lot as I go. If you read any of my first drafts, you'll see how things change, maybe even characters and their names change, from chapter to chapter. It's something that I gradually tidy up during the rewriting process.

But imagine if I did this with a story that spanned multiple books. Halfway through book three, I'd realise that there were a bunch of things wrong with book one that I'd want to change. Only problem is, by this time book one is most likely done and dusted.

Clearly, the only way I could manage this process was if I didn't release any books until the whole series was done. This would mean constant re-editing of all books. I'm not sure I could handle that.

Having said that, I am having a go at a series of a sort. Once I get my third Neville Lansdowne story out (tentatively titled Scrawling), I'll have three volumes of Neville. I suppose it's kind of a series, even though each story basically stands on its own. I'm not sure if there's some sort of a rule I'm breaking there as far as series definition goes - and I don't really care anyway.

So I'm continuing to churn ahead with Neville's new adventures - and I'm not looking back at his old ones. We'll see where he takes me next. 


  1. Yes, I’ve heard that too. I’m working on something at the moment which is set in the same universe as my first two books—Truth gets a name check—but that’s about it. When I edited my short stories I changed the name of one of the shops replacing it with one from Living with the Truth but that’s about it. All you have to do is look at how sequels have been handled in the cinema to realise all the things that could go wrong with a series. They can work—e.g. the original Planet of the Apes series and the original Alien quadrilogy (that’s what it’s called on my boxed set)—but then you’ve got all the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the Thirteenth films to show you how a fairly decent idea can be milked to death. (That really is a horrible metaphor now I think about it.) The trick is to be able to do the same but different. One of the reasons Poirot works so well—and the same goes for Rebus—is that their authors let the characters age and didn’t simply press the reset button at the end of every novel. A few years ago Rebus reached the age when he would’ve had to retire from the police force and so that’s what happened. Rankin could’ve tried to drag things out but he didn’t. He moved onto other things until quite naturally he thought of a way of bringing Rebus out of retirement. Cynics have said it was purely financial but I’ve seen him interviewed many times and, a bit like Iain Banks who just passed away, he’s a dead straightforward bloke and trustworthy; if that’s what he said happened then I believe him. It’s not like he needs the money.

    I left my second novel with an open end. People have asked me if I’d ever go back and finish off Jonathan’s story and I’ve said I wouldn’t but if I got an idea that could only be played out with those characters then that’s what I’d have to write. And for me that’s the key. I write what I have to write, not what I think will be popular. More fool me perhaps but we work within our limitations.

    Pretty much written that guest blog by the way. Hanging onto it until the ebook’s done though. We waited six months last time before releasing the ebook and it never made a damn bit of difference so as soon as Carrie can find the time it’ll be done. Also, for some reason, the paperback’s still not up on Amazon which is annoying.

    1. Thanks Jim,

      Let me know when that book is ready.