Writers In Many Hats
I’ve been talking to readers a lot this spring, and one subject that kept returning was whether writers can work on many types of book, or if they should stay in one area.
Crime was once a part of general fiction until genres separated out in bookshops, so that SF/horror, fantasy (and believe it or not ‘Paranormal Romance’, albeit mercifully briefly) all became genres. And writers either hop between genres or continue to mine one area throughout their career.
But crime is the big one – crime sells. And crime allows for surprisingly big ideas to be smuggled in through an established style of story. That’s why so many so-called ‘serious’ writers try their hand at crime at some point in their careers.
One of the joys of writing the Bryant & May series has been seeing how many ideas I could allow into what is basically a series of whodunnits. There’s been topicality, politics, social culture and satire mixed in with a continued theme of liberalism, anti-ageism and other ‘isms’, wrapped up in murder mysteries, together with plenty of humour. And lately I’ve even found a way to sneak in a form of time travel.
Writers often become known for one thing. I’ve never become too identified with one success and have largely worked under the radar, so first I was ‘the Master Of Urban Unease’ (Times) for my volumes of short stories, then the ‘Machiavellian Trickster’ (Guardian) for my four satirical novels.
Switching to the Bryant & May books I found new tags attached to my name, but part of me needs to keep exploring other areas in standalone books, which is why I wrote ‘Plastic’, ”Hell Train’, ‘Nyctophobia’ and ‘The Sand Men’ for Solaris. I was particularly gratified and surprised to find the last one so well received.
These books help to keep me fresh. It’s interesting that ‘Plastic’, which must hold some kind of record for squeezing the most jokes into any one novel, has been my least successful book in years (although it has some ardent fans, most of them other writers).
I love Bryant & May, though, and am happy continuing their adventures for a while yet. However, I’ve also been thinking about a spin-off series featuring a team of slightly younger, more female-led amateur detectives. Had ‘Plastic’ taken off I would have made its heroine, June Cryer, the lead.
Meanwhile Bryant & May aren’t going away, and I can confirm there will definitely be another volume of missing cases as the last one, ‘London’s Glory’, was nicely received. The beauty is still having the freedom to choose what I do.
The one thing that still surprises me is to be cited as a ‘discovery’. I’ve been here all the time, delivering novels and short fiction since the mid-1980s. It just took some people a little while to catch up…
NB Another fine piece of art from Keith Page to illustrate ‘Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart’.