I swore to all the ancient Gods of Soup that I would never write a follow-up to BIRTHDAYS FOR THE DEAD. I mean, what would be the point? BIRTHDAYS was my way of making life incredibly difficult for myself – I was going to have a bash at a Shakespearean tragedy. A proper one, where a powerful man is brought to ruin by his own actions (with a little help from his enemies, of course). You can’t write a follow-up to that, can you? There isn’t a HAMLET II – This Time It’s Personal! Macbeth didn’t kick off a series where he and the missus travel around 11th Century Scotland solving mysteries. No, because once you’ve put a character through that kind of wringer, there’s nothing of them left but a flattened shell and a puddle of sticky gloop.
BIRTHDAYS was going to be a one off and I’d return to my Logan McRae series, full of the joys of spring… Then the book came out, and people started emailing me demanding what happened next to Ash Henderson and his ‘delightfully quirky’ sidekick, Dr Isobel MacDonald. ‘SURELY IT CAN’T END THERE!!!’ They typed. In block capitals. ‘Oh yes it bloody can.’ I’d type back.
But every time I did, I found another little niggling slice of doubt taking up residence in the back of my head. Perhaps they were right? Perhaps there was more painful sticky goop to wring from Ash Henderson. After all, it had been fun torturing him instead of Logan for a change. And as Oldcastle is a completely made-up city I can do whatever the hell I want with it, and no one can complain because I said a street was one-way, when it really wasn’t.
And last, but in no way least, let’s not forget that after what I’d done to Ash last time, he was going to be almost impossible to resurrect. It would be a monster of a job. A proper forehead-keyboard-basher of a book to write. I could make my life difficult all over again.
So I did. I sat down and I filled three separate notebooks with scrawled ideas and doodles of penguins wielding flamethrowers. Until two things happened – one: I got bored of drawing penguins, and two: something finally clicked. I could bring Ash Henderson back from the pit I’d thrown him into. I could sharpen the knives and torture him again.
That done, it was just a case of pumping my forensic gurus for research (well, I say ‘pumping’, mostly it just involved buying them gin-and-tonics) so I could add a touch of verisimilitude to the sciency stuff. Then pumping my police contacts (for which read, ‘buying biscuits’) for information on how the hell everything was all going to work under the new Police Scotland regime. Honestly, when they decided to smoosh every police force in Scotland into one homogenous blob, no one stopped to think what it would do to all those years of painstaking research we crime writers had done. Right out the window it went.
But difficult and forehead-bangy though it was, writing A SONG FOR THE DYING was a lot of fun too. There’s something very liberating about dealing with characters you can fold in half and force through the wringer again. Squeeze out every last painful drop of sticky goop. No one is safe, they can all be killed off if it makes for a better story. And you don’t have to worry about the consequences, because these characters are never going to return.
Well, I say that now, but how long will that last when the book’s published and the emails start coming in…?
A SONG FOR THE DYING is published by HarperCollins