Writing a novel always presents challenges, and the challenges change with each and every book. In this case, one of the most intriguing problems I had to face was the simple fact that Until the Darkness Comes was the second in my John Craine series of books, and so far in my writing career I’d only written stand-alone novels. I’d read hundreds of series books – mostly crime fiction – and I knew what kind of series I wanted to write, I just had to work out how to do it.
There are, of course, differing levels of continuation in series books. Some are little more than one-off stories featuring the same character, others occasionally refer back to events related in previous novels, while others can be seen as interlinked episodes that both stand alone and continue the story of the character’s life. And it’s the latter that’s always been my intention for the John Craine books. I want each book to be a story in its own right, a story that works perfectly well in isolation, but at the same time I want the series as a whole to continue and develop a number of recurring themes.
So, I had to ask myself, how do I actually do that?
The first book in the series (A Dance of Ghosts, published in 2011) introduces the main character – John Craine, private detective – and establishes the everyday basics of his life: who he is, what he does, where he lives and works, his friends, colleagues, etc. But just as importantly, perhaps even more so, the narrative in A Dance of Ghosts is interwoven with events from Craine’s troubled past, and it’s these events that have shaped his life and made him what he is today. The book ends with one chapter of his life closing, and Until the Darkness Comes begins some weeks later with Craine still licking his wounds and trying to recover from the emotional trauma of recent events. He’s left town for a while, booked himself into a rundown hotel on an isolated island off the coast of Essex, hoping to get away from it all …
And that’s when it all starts again.
It’s a brand new story, a brand new case – with different characters, different motivations, a different setting – but within the story there are crucial links to both the previous case and to Craine’s past, and the challenge I faced when writing the book was how to introduce these links without compromising the flow and integrity of the main narrative. Being the second part of the series, I had to bear in mind that some readers may not have read the first book, so I had to review some of the basic information that I’d already explained in A Dance of Ghosts. But because other readers would have read the first book, it was equally important that I didn’t spend too much time going over the same information, rehashing the relevant sections from A Dance of Ghosts. Similarly, while it wasn’t essential for the reader to know the exact details of what happened in the first novel, there were some elements from the initial plot that carried over into the second book, and I had to strike a balance between not giving too much away (ie, not spoiling the first book for those who hadn’t read it) while at the same time revealing enough of the original story to help with the appreciation of the second.
Incidentally, while writing Until the Darkness Comes, I also realised that in this kind of series book – ie, the kind that occasionally refers back to previous books – the author is effectively (if not intentionally) advertising their own work. And that reminded of the way in which a favourite author of mine used to deal with this particular aspect of series fiction. J T Edson wrote literally hundreds of Westerns, many of them based around the same group of characters, and when I was a kid I used to devour these stories as often as my pocket money allowed. Quite often in these books, Edson would refer back to a previous adventure, and whenever this happened there’d be an asterisk in the text relating to a footnote at the bottom of the page, and this footnote would simply state the title of the book in which the previous adventure took place.
And who knows? Maybe when I’m writing my sixth or seventh John Craine novel, maybe that’s how I’ll do it.*
*Or maybe not.
Until the Darkness Comes by Kevin Brooks is published by Arrow Books priced, £6.99.