Bryant & May: The Shaping Of A Series
As I have friends who are just starting out on reading the books I’ve been trying to see them through their eyes, and by that process trying to discover what on earth I’m creating. Writers should never stop learning but that creates problems – when people say they prefer your early work it means they haven’t grown with you.
When I set out to create a series, the basic idea was simple; to do something no-one had done – in my knowledge – before, to set Golden Age detectives in the modern world and transpose those old plots into fresh environments. The trouble is that many old crime novels are all mechanics and no character. The plots were often brilliant, but in these times character drives stories, so I started to develop the cast more and let them shape the tales.
This began happening after Book Three, ‘Seventy Seven Clocks’, which was all plot and little character. From Book Four onward, the detectives’ various quirks begin to influence events – Bryant’s memory starts to play tricks on him, May begins to feel his age around women, Longbright’s loneliness saddens her, Raymond Land’s wife becomes unfaithful and so on.
By the time I reached ‘The Burning Man’ I found I had moved the series on quite a bit without disrupting the essence of the stories, but now I wanted to traumatise the unit and spark a bit of a change. There’s always a danger that you’ll disappoint readers who like things as they are, so the balancing act was tricky. Now, in the upcoming ‘Strange Tide’, out March 26th, you’ll find a new development that puts a slightly different spin on things. This helps me to keep a feeling of freshness about the tales.
At this point I had originally planned a new spin-off series – I’d put in quite a lot of work on it – but it felt like I might be abandoning Bryant & May for a new younger character to their detriment, and as I’m still having fun writing their dialogue I’ve deferred the spin-off to a later date.
Then there was the question of ancillary cast members – who should come back and who should be dumped? I didn’t want to end up in a Jar Jar Binks situation. I miss hacker Rufus, villainous Mr Merry and Harold Masters & the Insomnia Squad, but now have Darren ‘Missing’ Link, Dr Gillespie and others. There’s not room for everyone!
There are parts of the writing process I love and some I hate. Heaven is the second draft, when you know you have the story locked and you can relax and have fun. Hell is the first draft when you realise the idea isn’t going to work out as you’d hoped.
After ‘Strange Tide’ will come at least two more Bryant & May novels, ‘Wild Chamber’ and ‘Hall of Mirrors’ (title TBC), both of which will provide fresh twists in the saga. I enjoyed writing the short story collection ‘London’s Glory’, which got very nice notices – I take critics’ comments very much to heart, but I’ve been generally lucky with reviews. Now the shape of the series seems clear to me, and the books are easier to write than my standalone novels. Above right is the US cover for ‘Strange Tide’. I have no idea why there are roses, and it made me laugh when I realised that – yet again – they’d managed to shoehorn in Big Ben, making nonsense of the river’s geography (having said that, the UK cover puts the Tower of London up against Tower Bridge!)