Series characters sell. You only have to look at Alex Cross, Jack Reacher and John Rebus to see how lucrative the right hero can be. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when my agent and editor asked (pointedly) if I was going to write a second thriller, featuring Ed Strachan.
Like many first-time authors, I hadn’t thought much beyond Book 1. The goal was to be published. It didn’t matter whether I sold one copy or a million. Seriously. But then the goalposts shifted. DOUBLE CROSS was translated into seven languages and became a bestseller in Taiwan. Suddenly sales figures mattered hugely. And the commercial precedent suggested that I should continue where I’d left off.
But there was a problem. Despite the commercial carrot, I didn’t believe that Strachan was the right man for the job. Firstly, he was an underwater photographer which, for all its quirk, was still too niche. Unless I seconded him to a law-enforcement agency, he was only ever going to stumble on his adventures, which would begin to look contrived by Book 4 or 5. Secondly, his past (an emerald-smuggling orphan) went a long way to explaining his character. I couldn’t casually drop his history into Book 2 without elaborating, which would only alienate those who had read Book 1.
It can be done, of course – but you need to plan it from the off. Consider Reacher: an uncompromising military cop, downsized from the army at the end of the cold war. No home, no infrastructure, so he becomes a drifter. Child regularly explains this in one paragraph, often as a line of throwaway dialogue. It’s a gloriously succinct idea and it works because we can imagine the life Reacher has led without any exposition.
So how did I resolve my dilemma? There are, of course, other foundations on which to build a series. For Grisham, it’s the law. For Dick Francis, horse-racing. I’m basing mine on the great outdoors. My second thriller (FIRST CONTACT) is set in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. And we’re off to the Himalayas in Book 3. Other settings in the series will hopefully include the desert, the arctic, and the high-seas. They say you should write about what you know. Problem. I have dived with sharks, trekked through jungles and been rescued from a crevasse. But I haven’t ridden a camel, driven sled-dogs or sailed the Atlantic… Yet.
First Contact is published in paperback by Arrow