Writers In Many Hats

Bryant and May


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’.

8 comments on “Writers In Many Hats”

  1. Adam says:

    I was surprised at just how good both JK Rowling and Stephen King’s recent crime fiction are. Great characters and plotting, which always trumps setting or genre (with the exception of historical romances!)

  2. admin says:

    I had trouble with the King ‘noirs’ because it seemed to me that his naturally optimistic outlook prevented him from being truly dark.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    Did you hear that the ravens have a new area in which to feed because the gulls were stealing their food? I’m not sure about the security of a nation whose protectors can be put off by a bunch of seagulls.

  4. Ford says:

    I really enjoyed Plastic! A tad disappointed that we have seen more of June Dryer!

  5. snowy says:

    I’m probably being spectacularly dim, [APN], but I the logic in “Had ‘Plastic’ taken off I would have made its heroine, June Cryer, the lead.” is completely baffling, [at least to me].

    While it exists as a complete work and putting the apparent ‘modest’ commercial sucess, [whatever that might mean, since I really have no idea], aside.

    [I’m losing my thread a bit…. Switch to precis.]

    Something about all characters needed a backstory. Having an origin story is a bit of a bonus.

    Something about all ‘births’ being a bit messy, [danger of getting a bit too graphic].

    [Draw to a close quicky, before anybody spots just how ‘wobbly’ it went in the middle!]

    If the character is still viable, then why not take their story forward? Many other characters have started as walk-ons, exposition devices, cheeky plot problem fixers, etc. Whon went on to be fully fleshed out and moved to centre stage in books of thier own. [The case of two detectives comes readily to mind.]

    [No, lost it again…. gallop the last bit qiuckly before giving up and deleting the whole thing!]

    Better an interesting character, than just another ‘lantern jawed hero’ or ‘lissom heroine’ doing a variation on a story we have all read a hundred times before.

  6. Davem says:

    I’ve enjoyed all your works in all genres but … your short stories are totally and absolutely enthralling.

    So, being selfish, I wish you could provide us with even more.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    I think I agree with Snowy – I think I do.

  8. Wayne Mook says:

    It’s surprising how up beat some of the old pulps and noirs were, and as such I don’t have a problem with King, but then I’ve read some pulps noir that makes your toes curl and not for good reasons.

    As for June Cryer she can start as a minor character and work her way into the heart of a new series. She already has form.

    The sad thing is when people get trapped in genres and can’t explore other areas, Dickens wrote splendid ghost stories and they were accepted as part of his main cannon, it wouldn’t be allowed from a modern fiction writer today, sad really.

    There are some exceptions but they get harder to find.


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