How The Bryant & May Series Works – Part 3: Where To Next?
(This is the last part of a 3-part article)
)Having reached the end of a second arc – that’s two arcs of six books apiece – I once again felt I had peaked. I was especially pleased with ‘The Burning Man’ because it matched the mood of my city. I had got caught up in the banking riots, and it was obvious that before Brexit this was the topic most on people’s minds. Throughout my years in different London flats from Brixton to Kensington, Kentish Town to Belsize Park, I had been on more protest marches than you could wave a banner at, so I remembered how unpredictable street protesting could be, and the book felt fairly authentic. I try to put personal experience in each novel, just to give it a bit more grounding.
After Book 12 I worried that I would level out and be in danger of getting into a holding pattern. Book 12 had an apocalyptic, ‘ending’ feel.
To buy myself time when I would work out what to do next, I starting writing up some Bryant & May missing cases, following the old idea of Holmes and Watson discussing unseen investigations. I wasn’t sure whether they would adapt to short stories, but found myself really enjoying the process, so much so that I worked hard to tie them all together into a cohesive book. ‘London’s Glory’ sold better than usual collections, and kick-started my thinking into new areas.
Several of the stories featured details from ongoing London court cases with the names changed. I added some crazy peripheral characters and plot twists, and the book surprised me by slotting together well. It got me onto ‘Strange Tide’ and ‘Wild Chamber’, which pushed character development more and slightly toned down the wilder elements. Of course the books are still romps, but I could never write a Bryant & May novel with a grim, totally serious tone because I felt it would lose too much. Besides, Marcia Clarke’s crime novels taught me that a real-life prosecutor like Clarke does her job not just because she feels compelled to, but because it’s enjoyable. To say that Bryant & May love their jobs is a massive understatement. They can only survive by working.
I’d never tackled a real Agatha Christie-style novel (I wish I’d been offered the gig of taking over the Poirot stories) so I next wrote one of my own. ‘Hall of Mirrors’ is in some ways a break, an assessment of where I was, and a chance for new readers to catch up, although I was pleased with the way the plot worked and had fun with the ending.
Now, ‘The Lonely Hour’ is in preparation for a March release (we’re in the middle of the edit/proof process) and it’s very firmly back in the ‘Wild Chamber’ mould, but there’s a twist too, as I’m doing an ‘inverted mystery’ in which you know the identity of the culprit from the outset, and still pull out a surprise or two. (I think I actually made my editor scream at the end of the book). But I’m also developing the characterisations and applying the lessons I learned writing the e-book ‘Little Boy Found’, and this will hopefully lead me to new plots.
I’ve also completed ‘England’s Finest’, a second volume of the missing Bryant & May cases, with slightly longer stories, and that leaves me with a further two volumes to reach twenty. How could I stop before then? I don’t have any immediate ideas for settings or themes yet, but I’m working on two non-Bryant & May books at the moment so I have a little time to think about what I want to do.
My main hope for the series is that it keeps readers perpetually surprised and pleased. If I get bored, it will reflect in the prose – so it’s important to keep finding new enthusiasms. I don’t want to do one with a Brexit background – too polarising – but there’s more fun to be had with London’s secret places. In the spring I’ll embark on my seasonal tour of the city, looking for locations and ideas.
For now, I’m working on something new and different, just to give me a break from the old fellas, so that they don’t occupy my thoughts quite so much!