The Ideas That Didn’t Make It
For every plot I come up with that makes it into a book, there are twenty that don’t make the cut. Because I’ve paced technology throughout my career, I’ve changed systems with each new technological development and have no hard copies or online files from the past, so I’ve not been able to save these ideas, although I can remember a lot of them.
Perhaps they shouldn’t be remembered. The time slot for many has closed and certain ideas are no longer fashionable. The first novel I wrote was a WWI comedy called ‘Letters From Home’. It was based on some scripts I produced for a BBC radio series, and I’ve always had a soft spot for it so I kept a single hard copy (which I feel sure I still have somewhere). I also kept a copy of a second, much longer novel, but when I reread it last year I found it so awful that I threw the only remaining version away. Sometimes you really do have to do that.
My ‘difficult second novel’ was not going to be ‘Rune’ but a supernatural drama that I ditched for reasons I can no longer remember. I cannibalised parts of it for the novel ‘Red Bride’, which flopped horribly. At that time publishing was in a bad way, but a few brave souls were willing to risk taking on my work, which is always far from a sure bet.
In the Bryant & May series there was going to be one book called ‘Bryant & May and the Green Man’, centering on the legend of the mythological rural giant who protects England. The story was located in Exeter and Gloucester for the cathedral and forests. The novel was about a third finished when I realised that it would always be too fantastical for mystery readers, so I reluctantly abandoned it.
Similarly, I halted the novel ‘Lookalike’, with its eerie doppelgänger theme, after a host of films and novels came out more or less at the same time with exactly the same set-up, although perhaps my outcome was different to theirs. The same problem remained, though. The solution to the mystery was hard to swallow no matter how carefully I constructed it. Even my agent didn’t buy the idea, although he admitted I would have probably found a way to make it work. But by this time I had lost interest and moved on, so it stays tucked into my online notes.
‘Crazy Lady’ is a story I may go back to, a novel covering the life of a hopelessly optimistic woman whose faith in human nature gets her through some terrible times. I back-burnered it because it’s not a very ‘me’ project and I feared I would lose readership. We think about these things, you know.
I keep a file of plots, sentences, individual words I want to use – and a few jokes. In the next Bryant & May novel, ‘The Lonely Hour’, Arthur gets to tell his first proper joke – and of course messes it up. It’s an incident I wrote down verbatim at the time, and would have made an early novel if I’d found a place for it. Several sections were removed from ‘The Lonely Hour’ for reasons of pacing, but they’ll resurface in other books.
It’s frustrating for completists to know that there are items which can never be collected, but I’m planning to remedy that with the Complete Short Stories, a long-term project that involves tracking down all of my stories and putting them into one (or possibly two) large volumes. They’re being retyped as we speak, but it could take a while…