I assume that other authors, like me, create a series of books (ie a sequence featuring the same characters or setting/location) so the expectation that whatever readers loved about the first book will prompt them to read the others. But do we do it simply to have the same group of characters ready and waiting, therefore making the writing of additional books (in theory, at least) a bit easier? Or might it be to cash in on something that proves popular with readers? In my case, I have to be interested in what happens to my characters to keep me interested. Once I begin to lose that interest, there’s no point continuing.
With my Blood on the Tyne series, I originally started out with the idea of a character who would be a sort of British version of some of those American classics, like Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer. Aside from the fact that these are all male characters written by male authors, I wanted to write something that had that same sense of noir (dark themes and equally dark subject matter).
But when I tried to come up with a kind of English private eye with Chandleresque witticisms and classic one-liners, it just didn’t feel right. Also, I already had Terry Bell (from the Terry Bell Mysteries series) who kind of fitted that role, albeit in a more laidback and naïve way.
Ideally, what I wanted had to make sense without seeming contrived, so instead of a male PI, I came up with an amateur detective but made her female. Making Rosie Robson an unwilling investigator, who just happens to be in the wrong place when the poop hits the ceiling fan, I came up with a woman who works as a nightclub singer and is forced to come back to her hometown of Newcastle for her mother’s funeral. In doing so, she gets embroiled in a murder hunt and meets a potential partner in the shape of Detective Inspector Vic Walton.
I also wanted her to be strong as well as a bit vulnerable, so popped her in the mid-1950s so she’d have to deal with the kind of sexist and misogynistic attitudes that were commonplace at the time, as well as countering ideas about women’s roles in the home and workplace.
Having finished the first book – Blood on the Tyne: Body Parts – I wasn’t certain I could sustain the character through further books. For one thing, Rosie’s original plan is to go back to London to resume her job in a Soho nightclub. So, giving her a possible boyfriend and a reason to consider staying in Newcastle, book two finds her moving in with a shop worker, who turns out to have dodgy relatives. When a friend of Rosie’s sister dies mysteriously, Rosie visits the girl’s family and is pressured into investigating the death.
So far, so good. But with the third book – Blood on the Tyne: Red Snow – I had the feeling that continuing the series would begin to seem artificial, so considered knocking off at least one of the major characters as a means of prompting Rosie to make up her mind about her future. In the end, things turned out a little differently (though that’s not to say no-one dies), and I surprised myself with a denouement that not only gave her a future in Newcastle but could equally lead to her leaving the city for good.
At the moment, it feels right to end the series with this third book. To continue would push Rosie in another direction and bring about a change in her mindset. If another book does emerge at some point, I expect it will involve some poor soul getting knocked off in a gruesome manner and also necessitate including a reason why Rosie might want to get involved in the case.
With two book series based in the Newcastle area, maybe it’s time to shift my perspective. But then again, maybe it isn’t.
NB This post first appeared on Novel Kicks as part of the Blog Tour for Red Snow.
As you know, I love both your Rosie Robson and Terry Bell series. I think it’s the characters and backstory that bring readers back, along with the murder mysteries, of course. But you’re right, if they don’t excite you, they probably won’t excite the readers.
As always, you say all the right things, Rob. Cheers 😉
Hi Colin, I have never attempted a series before, but I am breaking an existing book into 3 parts which is a series of a sort, I suppose. I like Terry Bell very much and have bought book 3. Great English humour and depictions.
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What a star – many thanks, Robbie 😉
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