I am absolutely thrilled to welcome Mike Thomas to my blog today! Mike's novel, Unforgivable is published by Bonnier Zaffre on July 27th 2017. Here's a bit about it to wet your appetite!
An explosion rips apart a mosque, killing and injuring those inside.
But this isn't the Middle East - this is Cardiff . . .
In a city where tensions are already running high, DC Will MacReady and his colleagues begin the desperate hunt for the attacker. If they knew the 'why', then surely they can find the 'who'? But that isn't so easy, and time is fast running out . . .
MacReady is still trying to prove himself after the horrific events of the previous year, which left his sergeant injured and his job in jeopardy, so he feels sidelined when he's asked to investigate a vicious knife attack on a young woman.
But all is not as it seems with his new case, and soon MacReady must put everything on the line in order to do what is right.
So without any more delay, I'm going to hand straight over to Mike for his guest post written just for BibliomaniacUK!
Crime series or standalone novels – which are easier to write?
Entertainment, and how we consume it and what form it comes in, is changing. Cinema is no longer king, and actors who just ten years ago wouldn’t entertain an appearance on the small screen are increasingly turning to television, with its rich, long-form storylines and returning series – fuelled by the likes of Netflix and Amazon – proving incredibly appealing.
Yet in the book world, certainly where genre novel series once ruled the roost, it seems in the last few years there has been a shift in the opposite direction: a massive increase in the popularity of standalones. I recently spoke to Sarah Hilary, author of the brilliant Marnie Rome novels, and she told me that even established ‘series’ authors are being pushed by their agents and publishers to write standalone crime or psychological thrillers.
‘Gone Girl’, it appears, still reverberates.
As we all know, standalones are just that: self-contained stories. Series can be either serialised (with a narrative that runs through multiple books, such as Harry Potter) or formula (where with each novel there is a fresh story for established characters to ‘star’ in and where readers get to experience familiar ‘actors’ taking part in a different mystery, for example).
So with crime series and standalone novels, which are ‘easier’ to write?
My experience: there was a point, during the first major redrafts of ‘Unforgivable’, when I finally (it was a bugger to write) thought I had a readable book on my hands. You know: the story worked, the reveals did the business. There were narrative hooks, the characters were fully formed and ‘sounded’ realistic when they talked or bickered or discussed the ongoing case.
I was pretty chuffed with it, to be honest.
And then my editor – my thorough, pragmatic, far-cleverer-than-me editor – emailed to ask: ‘How are the readers supposed to know about Will’s background? Or how Charlie became injured? Or why Will turns heads wherever he goes in the force?’
And I replied, “Because they’ll know all that from the first book. Won’t they?”
No. No, the readers won’t. Because lots of them – lots and lots and lots of them – won’t have read the first book (cough, ‘Ash and Bones’ by the way, cough). They’ll have picked up ‘Unforgivable’ with its lovely, striking cover and decided to give it a go, not knowing what has gone before. And if the manuscript had been left as it was – when I was rather chuffed with it, and before my editor stepped in – not one of those readers would have had a clue what was happening. Why my protagonist’s name was known by everyone in the force he worked for. Why his supervisors viewed him not with suspicion, as such, but certainly concern for what he was going to go off and do next. Why Charlie – or DS Charlotte Beck, to give her full name – walks with a limp now, thanks to young DC Will MacReady.
I had – after ten years in the ‘author biz’ – made a rookie mistake and assumed readers would know what I’d been thinking as I wrote.
And that was when it hit me: this crime series writing lark isn’t a doddle after all. My twenty plus years in the police, along with previous standalone novels, counted for nothing. What I had to do, and it made my head hurt to do it, was go back into the draft and add… backstory. Exposition, when all I had ever been advised – by writing groups, tutors, published authors – was to cut back on the ‘telling’. And stuff. Lots and lots of stuff had to be added.
Stuff I hadn’t even realised was needed.
Here’s a quote from novelist Rebecca Forster:
“Writing a series is like when a dinner guest becomes a roommate. Writing the first book is like having a dinner party with exciting and stimulating guests, carefully planned menu, atmosphere – but the guests get to go home. And you get to put your feet up and relax. Writing a series, the guests stay permanently. You have to think of exciting things for them to do, vary the menu, invite different guests for them to play with.”
And that, for me, says it rather nicely indeed.
My first two books were self-contained, with a beginning, middle and end. I killed off major characters. I made it clear one or two of them would end up in prison. I finished writing them and mentally put my feet up, because I’d never have to write about those characters again. The novels were tough to write, sure. But one was a debut, the next was written around shift work and babies and life, and by the time I came to write about MacReady and co fighting crime I thought I was set for a relatively easy ride.
Let’s just get this out there: writing any novel is never easy. It is by turns exciting, boring, tedious and lonely. It can feel like forever. The internet becomes incredibly alluring when you’re sitting at a desk for six hours straight, staring at a blank page and blinking cursor. Every author I know hits ‘the wall’ when they have no idea what is going on in their story or if it works (mine is around 30 to 40 thousand words in, without fail). And I don’t care what anybody says, writing 400 or 500 pages of prose is a mammoth achievement.
What I can say is: writing them is different, much as readers will enjoy them differently. They are what they are. A standalone can be sleek and complete, a self-contained unit of story where space often forces you to be clever with backstory and potted character histories and plot. With a series you have time to breathe. To allow your characters to grow, for their lives and circumstances to change, for your protagonist and their supporting cast to become constants while each new tale unfolds around them.
Think, then, of Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellas’. Then think of ‘The Wire’.
Both excellent pieces of work, both different in form and each exactly as long as they need to be.
Thanks so much Mike for this really entertaining and insightful post! Thanks ever so much for coming along today and talking about writing your crime series!
Don't forget to follow the rest of the Blog Tour!
And don't forget to buy Mike's book Unforgivable or to start at the beginning with Ashes and Bones!