Blood Money: Maureen Carter’s latest title in the Bev Morriss detective series
Is writing the sixth book in a series easier than the first, the third, the fifth? Not for me. It’s harder, much harder. Your professional bench mark is higher, readers’ expectations raised. Writing a series is an on-going challenge and that’s absolutely how it should be. There’s a degree of comfort, of course, in knowing lead characters so well. But I see it like this: comfort can be a tad too close to complacent. And that’s deadly to creativity. As is what I think of as, SWR. Not a killer virus or a dodgy dance step: series writers’ rut. Falling into it would be a bad move. So, with the sixth in my Bev Morriss detective series just out – how do I avoid it?
I first addressed the issue a couple of titles ago when an editor commissioned an article on a similar theme. Back then, I asked other crime writers how they keep series fresh. John Connolly spoke of introducing unpredictability, Mark Billingham lets his characters age, Ian Rankin said new story lines. I try to combine fast-paced plots with dramatic – sometimes life-changing – developments in the lives of the main cast. I hope it works. I’ve certainly heard readers talk as if Bev Morriss and Detective Superintendent Bill Byford are real people. Some readers e-mail to say, can’t you get them to do this, that or the other. Well, of course I could, but where would be the fun? Even I’m not sure what sort of mess Bev will get into next. Not knowing every twist and turn, foible and full-stop helps when I sit down to write.
I am aware, though, of needing to weave in back-story with the work in progress. I aim for the bare minimum. Too much of what’s gone before deadens the pace and acts as a spoiler for new readers. But if a pivotal event in an earlier book is shaping the main character’s current thinking, the reader needs a gentle nudge in the right direction.
Given that many readers who follow series are equally engaged with detectives’ personal lives as the intricacies of a police investigation, getting the balance right is something I also bear in mind when writing the books. Too much domestic and relationship detail can damage the drama, dilute the suspense. The writer risks – if not losing the plot – loosening his or her grip on it. Not to mention the reader losing the will to live. A series writer (and a recent estimate reckoned there are 150 in Britain) has to tread a fine line – or risk falling into that rut. But that’s part of the challenge.
Several years ago, I heard an author liken starting a new title in an established series to slipping on comfy shoes. Complacent, or what? If the time comes when I feel writing the Bev series is too cosy, I’ll know it’s time to stop. I’m about to embark on the seventh title and if I slip into anything – it’ll be a pair of Louboutins. Killer heels. Keeping me on my toes.
The Bev Morriss series is published by Crème de la Crime.