In Search Of Another Series

Christopher Fowler
strange_detective_mysteries_194003 It's a known fact - series sell. My career could best be described as 'jobbing writer', with no too books the same except the Bryant & May series, and no reaction as strong from readers except in that series. So the thinking is, maybe I should do another series. Fun though they were, books like 'Psychoville' and 'Hell Train' don't make series. However, 'Plastic might. I had a lot of fun writing it, and eventually it was sold to Solaris, an independent publisher who did the book proud. But the problem of not being with a giant publishing house means that a book doesn't have the same social reach - although Amazon is levelling the playing field in this area. 'Plastic' was always intended to be part of the 'Wife Or Death' trilogy, with the other volumes being 'Wed & Buried' and
'Married Alive'. It was a hard book to write partly because it's so densely packed with action and jokes - someone pointed out that it has enough craziness stuffed into it for a trilogy by itself. But it was a style of writing I wanted to try out. It ended with the heroine, June Cryer, starting a new life. And as we all know from TV shows, that's a perfect segue into a sequel. But as much as I love writing Bryant & May, I'd like to have another series running that would allow me to explore something a bit more complex and thoughtful. That's 'Plastic' out, which concentrates on craziness, although there's a nice little message about independence tucked inside. I don't know - maybe it could work. I had other characters already set up in that world. I would like to use a female lead character, but not a police officer. You can't have members of the public interfering in police matters - this is not the age of the helpful busybody, if there ever was such a thing, so it would have to be a specialist. Here we get into the world of forensic sciences, and that's not for me because others already do it better, and sciences change fast. If it was a man, my character would be an outsider, unaccepted, disliked, European, offbeat. One idea was an autistic film critic who only connects with people through movies, and who only gets cases where people don't want to go to the police. Any thoughts would be helpful.
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Reading & Writing


Mim (not verified) Tue, 10/12/2013 - 10:38

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Other possible careers - journalist, social worker (they connect with all sorts of other professionals), historian (if the cases were old), private detective (though done a lot).

I like the idea of your autistic film critic. I have mild prosopagnosia (faceblindness). That's a rubbish condition for an investigator, but it does lead to focussing on details - gait, scent, sound - that other people don't pay as much attention to because they can rely on vision.

Ken Murray (not verified) Tue, 10/12/2013 - 10:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Straight up I would say Social worker! Nobody knows what the hell they are supposed to be doing, least of all them, and lets face it nobody really likes them so they're the perfect anti-hero?

But if you want to be a bit safer go for clinical psycologist workjng in some down trodden NHS backwater, so all manner of dodgy characters already provided! Let me know if you need any background, soooooo many stories to be told...

Gary Hart (not verified) Tue, 10/12/2013 - 14:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Love the idea of the Autistic film critic. I have Asperger Syndrome and would love to see our condition being treated nicely for a change. I am sick of the only time we crop up is when a 'celebrity' is diagnosed or when someone is killed. The in built intense focus and inability to get distracteed by ambiguities that would catch out a neurotypical person. Go for it I am sure it will be amazing.

pheeny (not verified) Tue, 10/12/2013 - 15:50

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You and me both Mim - it really throws me if someone I know changes their hairstyle - are you rubbish at navigation too (its a related condition)

Anyway - love the central character but not sure how he would become known as the guy to go to for cases the police don't want to know about

Dan Terrell (not verified) Tue, 10/12/2013 - 16:18

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I am now reading an Arthur W. Upfield. Bony always enters a town/area as an unknown and then sorts out whatever has happened, while learning the ways of the place from multiple angles. If you can come up with a female character who has a reason for doing this, there is nothing - except possibly reasonable access - that would stop you from writing stories set in differing locales.
With B&M you're sort of London and environs fixed, although once they did take a drive in the winter woods, didn't they. You know you've got to get "her" across to Spain, right? Maybe, the character's background should be more generalized, than specific.
I would suggest at some point in the new series, "she" goes "undercover" for a chapter in a nail parlor. Never been in one, but they sound like hotbeds of information.
Just for heaven's sake don't make the over all arc finding who killed, spouse napped, framed her husband, father, mother or child. That's been done to death by TV and existing series books.

John (not verified) Tue, 10/12/2013 - 16:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You ought to revisit some of the ideas first explored in vintage detective fiction. Dr. Basil Willing was a psychiatrist who was a consultant for the NYC D.A.'s office. I see very few modern plots that use this idea of a consultant who works with a prosecuting lawyer's office. There was a female department store detective in a long forgotten series by the American writer Zelda Popkin. That kind of character is due for a revival. Imagine all the satire you can get out of crime in a department store, plus the variety of gruesome murder methods available.

An auction house worker is another one I think would be great for a crime series detective, especially for a female character. All that avarice, the eccentricity of collectors, the variety of objects and the specialized knowledge that is required in each discipline, the possibility of stolen or forged items, covetousness leading to murder... Crime and passion are ubiquitous in an auction house. Gives you a chance to delve into arcane subject matter as with the Bryant and May books.

Keith Page (not verified) Tue, 10/12/2013 - 17:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I favour a rather younger character with some traits like Arthur Bryant.A kind of Dirk Gently, I suppose.

Christopher Fowler Tue, 10/12/2013 - 17:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

This is great thread. Mim and Pheeny - you should see the movie 'Agnosia', about a woman without facial recognition, and a plot to fool her...very stylish!

Alan Morgan (not verified) Tue, 10/12/2013 - 17:25

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Get any autistic character right. The vocal, liberal parents of autistic children are just your sort of core readership.

Vivienne (not verified) Tue, 10/12/2013 - 17:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Clearly a challenge to have the amateur sleuth able to get close to enough crimes. The danger of a single location seems to be the Midsomer effect of rampant crime statistics, and too much isolation also limits victim and perpetrator numbers, even if it keeps the police away.

Someone working as a volunteer for victim support? Could have any back story, but I don't think the characteristics of your possible male lead would fit here.

Lusephur (not verified) Tue, 10/12/2013 - 18:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The Norwegian writer Gunnar Staalsen has a series of books, Varg Veum,(also a series of movies) about a former child social services inspector who was sacked for misconduct,(he beat up and left for dead a grown man who bullied a pre teen child.) and becomes a private detective in Bergen. Quite fond of the movies,the books are hard to get in English translation though,almost as hard as the Pernille Rygg books.
Autism as a character trait could become a minefield to navigate correctly, with so many urban myths and out right crankery & woo about it's causes and what exactly Autism Spectrum Disorder is. Although Jonathan Letham has a character suffering from Tourettes in the wonderful Motherless Brooklyn (Not ASD but from how the tics, compulsions etc of the character are revealed. What starts off as a humorous character whom the reader can't help but laugh at this disorder, quickly becomes a moving and touching story where the reader ultimately starts to care about and no longer find the disorder laughable.)

Your main problem will be in finding a character and background that will plausibly allow continual events to happen to him/her over a number of books that will not stretch the limits of the reader.
Just a thought, how about a fixer for a crime boss/syndicate, someone who will help find people or items missing,amongst other things in a world where the police are not welcome.

Ken Murray (not verified) Tue, 10/12/2013 - 18:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Admin it sounds like Agnosia has been re-made, as I saw a movie with similar storyline. I think it was called Faces In The Crowd, with Milla Jovovich?

Jon Masters (not verified) Tue, 10/12/2013 - 20:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

It's probably been done, but what about someone solving crimes from the wrong side of the law ? I don't mean a secret psycho like Dexter, or someone locked up for a crime they didn't commit, a la The Fugitive, but a real criminal - maybe someone who has paid his dues and now has to pay back lots of favours, or even a proper bent copper who's back out trying to earn a bob in 'security' ?

pheeny (not verified) Tue, 10/12/2013 - 21:36

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Aargh no admin :D
I have enough trouble with regular movies - even if there are two characters with a moustache I am doomed (you can imagine the problems I had in the 70's)

Jennifer (not verified) Tue, 10/12/2013 - 23:31

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

A female lead character? Perhaps a university professor? An historian?

Matt (not verified) Wed, 11/12/2013 - 10:14

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Now what you need is a stay at home mum who is a clone of another woman say a police officer.... OH wait a sec. that's orphan Black. Sorry!

How about a OCD stay at home singleton that uses social media to do her magic! No romatic involvement and no direct contact with the outside world. Web cam and hacking could be her thing. OH and before becoming OCD stay at home type she was a Magicians assistant.

Malky Logan (not verified) Thu, 12/12/2013 - 11:25

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

How about sticking with a detective/police officer but making the main character a minority (black, Asian, gay, female*) and setting it in the near past, when police stations were very much hairy-arsed male dominated environments. Fighting prejudice as well as crime. Nobody willing to help them and given the cases no-one else wants.

*I know women aren't a minority group - I meant in the context of a decades past police station!

Alan Morgan (not verified) Fri, 13/12/2013 - 13:34

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Mary Berry channels the personality split ghost of Horatio Nelson Mandela in a series of cake-based political and/or nautical mysteries?

You or Viz. Either way. :-)

Dennis Walker (not verified) Fri, 13/12/2013 - 23:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've an idea but can't really see it being a series, or not much of one. An angel and a demon, working together to find out out who murdered someone that has just arrived in heaven/hell. On Earth the perpetrator got away with it, but our 'heroes' are tasked to find the murderer and ensure some form of justice.
They could even have the difficulty of not fully comprehending human motivations and having a bunch of restrictions in their dealings with mortals.

(I'm assuming that omniscience doesn't apply to angels/demons. And there's no reason for it to be Judeo-Christian mythology it's just convenient to talk that way) Now that I'm re-reading it, it might work better (if at all) as a series of short stories.

Liz Rose (not verified) Sat, 14/12/2013 - 00:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Woman who works in a finance/loan/payday loan office. Clients could bring in any and all sorts of stories; criminal, comedic, dramatic. She gets involved so the clients can pay back the loans and keep her small office afloat and herself employed.

Reuben (not verified) Sun, 15/12/2013 - 13:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Anything, but not a writer as a profession please!
How about someone who works in a factory. We are very under-represented by a media who believe everyone works in an office like themselves with their 'water cooler moments' and wasting their working hours looking at inane crap on the internet.
Am I starting to sound a little bitter there?

Leigh McCullough (not verified) Sun, 15/12/2013 - 21:59

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Colin Cotterill has written books set in Laos in 1975 & is forced to be the coroner, they say there is no crime and no need for police or a coroner, but have to appoint one after a strange death. The entire series is funny in a sad way like Russia today, but it makes for great storytelling and maybe you could borrow a bit of it by placing England in the future where all is perfect spy cameras everywhere all writing and reading read by the government so no crime can happen that they don't already know about and there is no need for an investigator who is old and remembers the bad old days of 2013 when crime still occurred sticking his or her nose in.
Make need a little work but call me when you get stuck.
Your biggest fan across the pond..Leigh

Helen Martin (not verified) Mon, 16/12/2013 - 04:24

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Probably, Reuben, but it's understandable. The problem is that a factory worker usually has inflexible hours and no access to computers (unless there's one in the canteen/lunchroom) so research would be difficult but if you paired him/her up with someone who *did* have flexible hours & computer access then your factory worker would be the ideal on the street research person who could walk into the local without raising eyebrows - and make the factory person the brains of the outfit, too. (Up the working classes!)

Shuku (not verified) Tue, 24/12/2013 - 07:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Well...there's music as a profession. Part of my work involves being a choral instructor and musician, and as far as getting into the lives of people, there's nothing better than teaching. Working hours can be fairly flexible, but you get remarkably intertwined with people's lives, especially the students I end up teaching even if it's just once or twice a week.

I don't know if it could be worked into anything resembling a series, but I definitely can say that as a vocal/choir coach to some 200 children and teenagers on a weekly basis, it's never dull. Plus the research I wind up dealing with as a conductor to a chamber choir is amazingly esoteric.

That said - there's one avenue I'd thought about for some time when I was doing Nanowrimo, and that is an gamer. As in, online computer gamer with text-based role-playing. I've been heavily involved in that community for almost two decades, and what's fascinating is the amount of research that goes into creating - and playing - a character in a particular setting. I've researched higher mathematics, glass-blowing, traditional medicine, physics, and a bunch of other absolutely unrelated (and sometimes loony) topics to flesh out a character. What's more, there's a ton of interaction with the people online that you role-play with. It's a built-in network that ranges from local to international and people are surprisingly helpful/friendly. There /are/ predators and rather iffy people, but after a while one sort of learns to tell, and we stay clear, or at least only interact if our scenes cross paths.

Not sure if it's any help but...well! Let me know if you need any more information, I've got a whole community you can explore.