Go Mad Or Go Home
Every time I sit down to write a novel I come up against the same question; how realistic should I make it? How fantastical? How believable should it be? How mad? How down to earth?
I’ve written here before about how so-called ‘gritty’ thrillers and crime procedurals are usually nothing of a kind. We see fly-on-the-wall documentaries on TV all the time, but is that what we want to read as well? Should we be taken out of ourselves, as in, say, the novels of Phillip Pullman, or have our noses rubbed in the real, as in Adam Kay’s ‘This Is Going To Hurt’?
Well, it depends on the kind of writer you are – and that’s where my problem kicks in. Being versatile makes you an oddity. Even genre-crossing oddballs like Nick Harkaway and Ned Beaumann have a consistency of style. When I write Bryant & May I go into a dense, fact-filled mode. I’m careful to avoid fantasy – there’s nothing fantastical in the books except perhaps Mr Bryant’s hallucinations, which lasted for two novels, and the oddest facts I pick up on are often the truest.
When I work on a thriller it becomes more emotion-based and realistic. And in the upcoming Bryant & May, ‘The Lonely Hour’, there’s a deliberate attempt on my part to develop the characters further and build a sense of pending tragedy.
But now, with the start-date of 2020’s novel looming, I feel as if I want to break out and go really big, bonkers and baroque. Show London at its most contradictory and peculiar. But of course that may not be what readers want, so yesterday I held a vote on Twitter – the question was what should the tone be? Gritty believable tragedy or epic baroque villainy? The result was six for gritty versus several hundred for baroque, plus one guy who wanted both.
And that, I guess, is what readers think I’m best at – so taking them at their word I’m going large on the nineteenth book, go utterly mad and have fun with putting the old boys through their paces. The book will be called ‘Oranges & Lemons’, and I start it appropriately on April 1st!
I’m on Twitter @Peculiar