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Thursday, 19 November 2015

Writing - Catalyst for a series

If we’re to believe the experts, books in series are very popular and ‘sell’. This makes sense. Look at the popular TV and movie series that draw viewers in the millions. The audience – the readers, the viewers – like the familiar world of the characters, even though they still want to be stretched by a constantly moving story with twists and turns.

Writing a series is not easy, and sometimes the original writer might not have even intended to pen a series. There are perhaps two approaches:

1.     A character or set of characters cry out for more treatment, more adventures, so a series is born – perhaps extending from a sequel

2.     The writer plans a situation or a number of plots and creates characters who have the longevity to span more than one novel

I suspect that Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe didn’t begin as a series, no more than C S Forester’s Hornblower. But their characters demanded more – including books harking back to their past. The back stories of both Hornblower and Sharpe were novels written some time after the first book in the series was published. The Richard Bolitho novels by Alexander Kent (Douglas Reeman) also followed this pattern, written out of chronological sequence. [Interestingly, Reeman’s first book was published in 1958 and his latest was in 2011; he’s now 91].

Unintended series
Usually, these begin with the nagging requirement to write a sequel. Sequels tend to demand to be written because the hero or heroine has unfinished business. In actual fact, the author has invested time and emotion in the character and it is painful to leave that ‘person’ in limbo (even if it was ‘happy ever after’). And of course in the writing of the sequel, more story lines insinuate themselves into the author’s psyche. This kind of series can present the biggest problem for the author, because sometimes the first book has presented a kind of strait-jacket, a constriction that has to be broken to allow for more free rein in the future. That strait-jacket might be a job or a spouse; either of which may have to be jettisoned for the series to continue.

Intentional series
A series can be rewarding not only for the reader, but also for the author. Naturally, to begin with salient points have been mapped in the main character’s life, to progress the series. But it’s the putting on of flesh that makes the project so intriguing. I’m a great believer in planning a book, but within that plan there’s still scope for diversions that might provide material for later adventures. These diversions may be caused by new characters being introduced or by unexpected events precipitated by the plot device.

The planned series begins with a central idea. A mission for the hero or heroine. A goal or a quest. The black magic series Night Hunter by Robert Faulcon (Robert Holdstock) began with black magicians kidnapping the hero’s wife, daughter and son for nefarious purposes, leaving him for dead. He survived and began delving into the supernatural, seeking clues to the whereabouts of his family, his quest sustained for six books (1983-1987). Pick a genre and you’ll find hundreds of series books in that genre: crime, science fiction, fantasy, and horror, for example. You can search for series and get some surprises too.
This site is quite interesting. I was surprised at the dominant series titles – but bear in mind that the more books in the series, the more votes/readers that series is likely to get:

I’m dipping my toe in the series concept with two strands: The Tana Standish Spy Series and the Avenging Cat series.

The ‘Avenging Cat’ begins with:
Catalyst – which introduces Catherine (‘Cat’) Vibrissae who is on a mission of vengeance against Loup Malefice, CEO and owner of Cerberus, a global company of dubious ethics.

“Yes,” Avril said. “I get a small retainer from one of the anti-pollution groups, DOSE - Defenders of Sacred Earth. Not much. But they want me to continue, just in case anything goes amiss. They keep quoting PCB pollution at me. I point out that the stuff’s banned, but they insist I carry on checking. Distrustful lot…” She shrugged. “But they pay.”

Len tapped his fingers on the desk. “PCBs?”

Polychlorinated Biphenyls,” Cat said. “Highly toxic, used in the manufacturing processes of paints, adhesives, polish, electrical equipment. Firms were pretty cavalier with it…”

Len chortled. “Is this the chemist in you coming out now?”

“You’re a chemist?” Avril said.


Avril leaned forward, in interrogator’s mode. “But I thought you were a model.”

“I’m both. Modelling pays better – and my hours aren’t so regular.’

Avril narrowed her eyes, faced Len. “Cathy’s right. PCBs were banned in the late 1970s, early 80s.”

“Well,” Len said, “that’s all right, then, surely?”

“No, not really.”

Cat explained, “What Avril means is that PCBs can remain in seawater for a thousand years…”

 Catacomb – continues on Cat’s vengeance trail, this time taking her from Nice to Morocco.

That evening, they all sat at a long table, Gerard on her right, Rick on her left. Opposite were Howard and Abdel. The walls of the dining room were adorned with oil paintings, landscapes, views of Tangier, and seascapes, all executed by Gerard. “You’ve captured the light perfectly,” Cat said. “Your style reminds me of the Orientalists.”

            “Why, thank you, my dear. I simply adore Delacroix.” Gerard wore a cravat, a red silk shirt and loose flannel trousers with open-toed sandals. Quite the Bohemian, she thought.

            Glad to be free of trousers and shirt this evening, she’d chosen a simple black dress. But out of respect for Abdel, she’d draped her shoulders with a wispy black lace shawl that covered the enticing generous ‘v’.

            Howard nursed his Volubilia Gris, a white wine he recommended, and stared away into memory. “I remember you wearing that black ensemble, it seemed more like mourning clothes – except for the revealing décolletage, I might add.”

            “And no visible panty line, as I recall,” chimed in Gerard with glee.

            “Because,” Cat replied, “I wasn’t wearing any.”

            Howard guffawed.

            “I’ve been to some of Cathy’s fashion shows,” Rick said. “I’m sure she’d appear elegant even in a bin-liner!”

            She closed her hand over his and squeezed it. “Thank you, kind sir.”

            Gerard chuckled. “I agree. Elegant even in glitzy tat!”

            Howard whooped loudly. “Sheer dress, sheer wantonness!”

            “Remember that wedding dress with the see-through top?” Gerard chortled. “A few eyes popped at that!”

            “I can imagine,” Rick said.

            Shaking his head, Howard moaned. “The new trend seems to be to expose what is usually covered and to cover what used to be exposed. I can’t say I like it much. It loses the allure.”

            Cat smiled at Abdel, who appeared uncomfortable, his face slightly flushed, as if unsure where to rest his gaze. “The pendulum will swing, as it always does. Ignore these critics, Abdel, they’re only baiting me.”

            “I know, Cathy. But it is–”

            “Unseemly,” chimed in Howard. “You’re right. We should behave better with our guests.” He winked at Gerard.

            “Consider us both chastised.” Gerard coyly lowered his lids.

            “Now, tell us,” Howard said, leaning close to her, “why are you really here?”

            “Am I that transparent?”

            “Utterly see-through, my dear.”

            Keeping to only a few details, she explained about Loup Malefice’s machinations and her discovery that he’d had her father killed.

Cataclysmis due out next month and sees Cat in China, determined to confront Malefice once and for all in Shanghai. But complications arise before she can achieve that goal…
After so long apart, Cat and Rick fell into each other’s arms when they got inside the city apartment. No sooner had the door shut behind them, their cases shoved to one side in the hall, than they began undressing each other on their way to the bedroom.

            Afterwards, as they snuggled close on the bed, she said, “It still hasn’t sunk in. All the money I’ve been bequeathed.”

            “You can do almost anything, go anywhere.”

            “I’m not going anywhere without you, Rick.” She hugged him, kissed him on the lips.

            “You don’t have to continue with your crusade, you know.”

            “I sort of promised. You were there.”

            “Yes, but it can be all done legally – no more abseiling down buildings!”

            “We’ll see – after Shanghai.”

            “All right, I’ll settle for that.”

            “I hope we can get the paperwork sorted and find a seat for you on the plane.”

            “Me too. I hated us being separated. I know it was for a good reason…” His voice choked off.

            “I know, darling. I feel awful.”

            “It’s sad, Cathy. But it also makes you grateful to be alive… You never know how long you’ve got left, do you?”

            “Live for the moment?”

            “Yes.” He kissed her. “Something like that.”

            “I told you about Daddy’s great affection for Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.”

            “Yes, you did. So?”

            “He wrote, ‘In the life of a man, his time is but a moment, his being an incessant flux, his senses a dim rushlight, his body a prey of worms, his soul an unquiet eddy, his fortune dark, and his fame doubtful’. Long or short, our lives should be lived for the ‘now’, not dwelled upon in the past, nor blindly yearning for an unknowable future.”

            “That’s quite a philosophy. Seize the day?”

            “I’ve seized something, I think…” she purred playfully.

            “Hmm… so you have…”

The Tans Standish Spy Series is about Tana, a psychic who works for the British Intelligence Service, and begins with:

The Prague Papers – which finds her in Czechoslovakia, 1975, some seven years after her last mission there during the Soviet invasion. This time, she has to identify a traitor and in the process loses some friends.
The Tehran Text – takes Tana to Iran in 1978, having recovered from the trauma of the Czechoslovak mission. She needs all her psychic powers and guile to evade the Shah’s secret police, while attempting to preserve the life of friends.

I hope you can join me in these series, and enjoy the ride!
If you’re keen on spy fiction series, then drop by here

Randall has amassed a phenomenal amount of information – 800+ series comprising some 5800+ books as well as covering 200+ movies and 1200 TV shows).  I’ll be featuring a blog post about Randall soon.

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