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The Pros and Cons of Writing a Series

I’d written short stories for some time with moderate success before deciding to tackle a novel. At the time, some fifteen years ago, I happened to be reading a great many novels by writers such as Nicci French, Minette Walters and Barbara Vine. I loved the edginess of their writing, the idea of the main character finding her life spinning out of control – taken over by events she can’t explain, and if she doesn’t sort it all out, she will end up dead. What interested me was trying to capture the fear, that unease, the tension of wondering what is going to go wrong next? Thus, All in the Mind and Watcher in the Shadows became my first published novels. I was having problems writing the latest psychological suspense and it was my then agent who suggested that I should think of having a series character. Her argument was that it would be easier to sell them to the publishers, but that wasn’t the reason I decided to give it a try.

I’d had the idea of a tour manager for a coach company as a main character for some time. In the spirit of the Golden Age whodunit tradition, it would give me a limited number of people as suspects – my coach passengers, a driver who would be my protagonist’s confidant and partner plus the added advantage that each book would be set in a different country and have a limited time scale – the length of the holiday. Not that things turned out quite like that. Novels and characters take on a life of their own! The agent’s prompting came just at the right time and so the Fiona Mason Mysteries were born.

The Pros

As a writer, the main advantage is that for each new novel you have a readymade protagonist plus two or three other significant characters and, in my case, a fully drawn template – a coach trip and the ongoing love/hate relationship of my two main characters (another thing that was never planned but just happened).

As a reader, I love characters I can return to. They become like old friends. I felt deprived when Lindsey Davis decided to abandon her third-century Roman private eye, Falco. It took a book or two before his adopted daughter, Albia, found a similar place in my affections. It’s the characters one remembers – Poirot, Morse, Scarpetta, Vera, Kurt Wallander et al that linger in the mind rather than their adventures.

 

 Cons

If you are not careful pros can turn into cons – the template can become formulaic and characters become stale. It’s an accepted maxim that characters must develop. The experiences they go through in the course of the story must alter them in some way. That is difficult to do book after book.

Much as I waited eagerly for the next Stephanie Plum and Agatha Raison when I first discovered them, after the first ten or so book, their appeal began to wane. Perhaps comic protagonists can easily end up too two-dimensional or did their creators began to tire of their characters? We all know how Agatha Christie complained of falling out of love with Poirot. Perhaps that’s why she created Miss Marple. Not that either character became stale for me!

If I can grow my Fiona Mason as Ian Rankin manages to do with his Inspector Rhebus or P D James Adam Dalgleish, then she may survive a little longer.

One of the major cons for me, is Fiona Mason’s adventures need to be heavily research. In a busy life, it’s just not possible to drop everything and take a couple of weeks’ holiday in Europe. In January I found myself in that position. Work on Blood Across the Divide was over – I was just waiting for its publication in February – but I was ready to write the next book. The problem being that I still had three months to wait before our planned holiday to Paris and a Rhone valley cruise. Without being able to immerse myself fully in the right location I was stumped. I had been to Morocco in November. Not for research – a pure holiday – so I’d made no notes! How was I to know at the time that I’d come up with an idea for a new series?

I’m currently feverishly writing away at the first Aunt Jemima mystery. Trying desperately to get down the first draft as quickly as possible – firstly before I forget what we did and the fantastic places we visited and secondly because come April, when we get on that plane at Heathrow my mind will be fully in Fiona Mason mode! I’m a slow writer at the best of times and I’ve never taken less than six months to write a first draft, so my chances are slim, but I suppose I can but try.

Author Interview on ‘toofulltowrite’

First and foremost, I wish you all a happy and productive New Year.

Towards the end of the year, I was approached by David Ellis and asked if I would agree to be interviewed for his toofulltowrite website subtitled as a Creative Palace for Artists and Author Resources. David asked some interesting questions that had me scratching my head at times and here is the result.

PORTRAITS 043_cr 300 tallAuthor Interview – Judith Cranswick

Welcome to the latest installment in the Author Interview series and we are finishing out the week with a bang.

Tonight we speak to Award Winning author Judith Cranswick about her crime thriller novels and what makes them so special, engaging and worth reading.

 

Hi there Judith, thank you for taking the time to be with us today to talk about your thrilling stories.

Blood Hits the Wall front cover copyLet’s start with your latest novel “Blood Hits the Wall” – Book 4 in the Fiona Mason Mysteries Series. Please tell us more about Fiona, how she has evolved over the course of four novels and what sleuthing adventures and sticky situations she is going to find herself dealing with this time round?

In the first book in the series, “Blood on the Bulb Fields”, Fiona was recently widowed. She had spent the last nine years looking after her terminally-ill husband. When he died, family and friends suggested she get herself a little job to keep herself occupied though becoming a tour manager for a coach company wasn’t quite what they had in mind. Fiona has grown in confidence as the year (and the first four books) has gone on and in “Blood Hits the Wall”, on her tour to Belin and the Elbe Valley, her relationship with MI6 chief, Peter Montgomery-Jones develops though they continue to find themselves at odds with one another all too often as they pursue their separate objectives. This time she wants his help when the group is detained in Berlin following the murder of their local guide, but he has his own secret mission which he cannot jeopardise. Continue reading

The Life-Gets-in-the-Way Factor

writng-adviceWriting magazines and blogs are full of helpful advice for how to deal with the problems we writers sometimes have to face – dealing with writer’s block, “soggy” middles, constant interruptions and even finding the time to write. I’ve even read articles about finding your best time of day to write – as if most of us could choose when we sit in front of our computer screens or pick up a pen – or the best place to write. One thing I’ve never seen written about, but something I frequently struggle with, is when life gets in the way.

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Two Nations Divided by a Common Language

quote-two-nations-divided-by-a-common-language-winston-churchill-78-95-13One of the great advantages of eBook publishing is that even a first time novelist can now access a global market without difficulty. EBooks are just as easy to download in America, Canada and Australia as they are here in Britain. However, this has definite consequences which we writers need to bear in mind. Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill have all commented on the confusion that arises in the differences in our use of language on either side of the Atlantic.

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The Novelist and Depression – Dealing with the Downside

DepressionWe fiction writers are sensitive people – we live on our emotions. We create characters and, if we want to make them to be real for our readers, we see the world through their eyes. We put our protagonist through all kinds of misery. One problem after another. If we didn’t there would be no story. The more we experience our character’s pain, the better the writing will be. We train ourselves to feel the grief, the despair, the anguish. Is it any wonder that we fall victim to a certain level of despondency when life hands us a bad deal? Life is never fair. I like to claim that I’m a glass half full person, trying to see the best side and count my many blessings, but there are times when I don’t succeed.

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Writing the Novel – The Final Lap

Blood Hits the WallWriting a novel is a totally engrossing occupation. For the last year, ‘Blood Hits the Wall’ has been my obsession. As we writers know, writing is far more than sitting at the PC and getting the words up on the screen. It becomes something that occupies the greater part of your day. The characters and the scenes constantly play out in your mind even when you are busy doing something else entirely.

Rewriting is a lengthy process. Once the first draft is complete and the numerous rewrites analysing plot, characters and pace have begun,  your head starts spinning as you rework sections in your mind. You reach a point when you’re not sure if that great extra clue or nuance is still in your head or if you have already altered the manuscript itself. Whole scenes get moved around to provide a more logical unfolding of the story line. This means a careful check that it does not result in references to events that haven’t happened yet because you’ve moved them later.

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Has the EBook Changed the Way We Write?

page eBookNovel writing has always evolved. I’m not talking about changes in fashion – the prevalence of Science Fiction in the 1960s, the rise of the Fantasy Novel, the misery memoirs, the Vampire novel and the Dystopian novel. Each decade popular fiction embraces a new genre. My belief is that today’s writers are adapting their writing style to ensure that their novels meet the changing requirements of the eBook. For many novelists, especially indie writers, eBook sales far outweigh physical book sales and an increasing number of novels are only ever published in eBook form. Writers cannot afford to ignore the demands of the eBook. Continue reading

What Does Your Fiction Say About You?

Readers often identify the main protagonist in a novel with the author, especially if it is a series character.

Zoe SharpZoe Sharp 2I’m guilty of that myself. One of my favourite writers is Zoe Sharp. Her main character, ex-Special Forces Charlie Fox appears in the first novel Killer Instinct teaching self-defence but in the later novels she works as a bodyguard. Ever since I first met Zoe, as I read the novels I can’t help picturing Charlie as Zoe. The two have much in common. Charlie is a gun-toting maverick always jumping on her powerful motor bike. Amongst her hobbies Zoe cites “fast cars (and faster motorbikes) and target shooting.” I’m not sure about the maverick bit, but she and her husband did build their own house in the Lake District. At one of her talks, she mentioned that in the process she managed she cut off the top of her finger. When her husband rushed over she put out a hand to stop him with the command, ‘Let me see how the blood drips.’ The things people do for their art! If you’ve never read a Zoe Sharp novel try Roadkill and you’ll see what I mean about bikes! Continue reading

Writing Strategies

The end is in sightThe end is in sight!

I find it difficult to believe that only a month ago I was languishing just beyond that halfway point, some 45,000 words into the novel. It was like wading through treacle. The ideas wouldn’t come and every sentence was an effort. The writing simply refused to flow. My ‘soggy middle’ blues were the worst I’ve ever experienced – or so it seemed at the time. It had taken me six months to reach that point, but it was the two-month long break that followed that I blamed for my sorry state as those who read my last blog will know. From the responses I received after it was posted, I know that my experience is far from unique.

Looking back, I realise that break was no bad thing. Distance can make the heart grow fonder because, after a few tentative steps, I’m now racing to the finish.

To Plot or Not to Plot

One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that no two writers write their novels in the same way. The biggest differences are between the meticulous plotters who plan to nth degree taking months to write 40,000 word summaries with details of each chapter and scene and those who see writing as a journey – writers who start with a sentence or two and see where it leads them. Talking to many of my writer friends, it appears most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

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