Series vs. Stand-Alone Novels—A Personal Journey by Raymond Khoury
For me to say that writing my fourth novel, The Templar Salvation, which is winging its way to bookshelves across the UK this week, was new territory for me, may sound odd. It is, after all, a follow-up to my first book, The Last Templar. Which kind of neuters the new territory point—but not quite.
It’s my first ‘sequel’ of sorts. The books in between—The Sanctuary and The Sign—were stand-alone books that had nothing to do with Templar.
So why now?
Some context for you: 2006—the year the first one came out—feels like yesterday in some ways, and yet, in others, it’s a lifetime ago. Because that first book did change my life. Before it was published, I was cruising along as a screenwriter, writing TV shows like Spooks (that’s about to be remade in the US by ABC) while, quietly, on the side, nursing along a small pet-project: turning a seven-year-old, unproduced movie script of mine called The Last Templar into a novel (just as a personal exorcism with zero career expectation, but that’s a long story).
Any cruising ended with its publication. I watched with great pride and delight as it turned into a global bestseller—and realized I now needed to figure out what to follow it up with.
I had a story in mind, the story that became The Sanctuary. It’s a book I’m immensely proud of, because it was the biggest professional challenge of my life, for several reasons: it was to follow a huge bestseller, with all the expectation that entails; I’d be starting with a blank slate, not with a screenplay I knew inside out; I was writing to a deadline; I’d be writing something I’d pre-sold; and it would be my second book, with the opposite expectation, the prejudice of the ‘difficult second album’ built in. And yet, despite all that, when I told my editors about it, none of them—to their credit—asked if it couldn’t be a Reilly and Tess story, which it could easily have been—and which would have been the obvious commercial move.
I’d flirted with the notion myself, very briefly, right at the beginning of the process, but I quickly decided I preferred it to be a stand-alone with new characters. Somehow, it felt odd to me that my leads from The Last Templar, within a year of surviving a life-changing, potentially world-changing adventure, would yet again, by some amazing coincidence, be involved in another one. Of course, I know it’s a staple of the genre. Countless series of novels do just that. Readers suspend disbelief and love it. Hell, I do all the time. And it’s an easier way to sell more books. But for me, The Sanctuary had a conceit that was pretty far out—the search for a substance that prolongs longevity dramatically—but I wanted it to feel utterly believable. To do that, I needed to do two things: I had to layer it with some solid research that backed-up its premise and grounded it in science; and I couldn’t use Reilly and Tess again. Using them would have removed a layer of the credibility I was aiming for. It would have also changed some key elements to the story, elements I loved and wasn’t prepared to sacrifice.
I couldn’t be happier with the book, or with the way it was received. And by the time I started working on the third book, The Sign, the notion of bringing back Reilly and Tess was even farther off my radar. The Sign didn’t involve any history, it wouldn’t have any historical flashbacks. It was, really, a political thriller. It needed its own characters, characters that—like those of The Sanctuary—took quite some time to discover and flesh out.
I’d started work on my fourth novel—again, a stand-alone—when the idea for Salvation came to me. It sunk its claws in and wouldn’t let go. I called my editors and floated the idea. They were, obviously, delighted, and pounced on it—Templar had remained a bestseller in the interim years—but, more importantly, I was raring to write it too. Enough time had passed—four years. I’d written two other books that were stand-alone pieces I was hugely proud of. And I was now ready to spend some time with Reilly and Tess again, ready to explore what had happened to them in those years and have some fun with them.
I enjoyed the experience so much I’m now bringing them back for another book—though this one won’t involve the Templars. I guess I’ve discovered what writers of recurring characters have known all along—it’s fun to get to know them, grow them, evolve them, mess with them, populate their backstories, turn them into richer, more interesting characters. But I don’t for a minute regret the route I took to get there.
The Templar Salvation is published by Orion