The Perils Of Creating A Long-Running Series



I first noticed it when I went back to check on a character’s name in ‘The Memory of Blood’, Book 9 in what looks like becoming a 20-volume series.

One of the characters was using a Blackberry. As far as I know they’re long gone; nothing dates faster than technology. Then a Fax machine turned up. What were those things again? The problem quickly made itself known. The books run concurrently, with the exception of the ‘flashback’ volumes, but the years pass, and as the series continues to progress we get a sense of truncated time, so that now I might mention Cloud backup which didn’t exist three years ago, which in Bryant & May’s world was just six months ago.

So a weird kind of timeslip occurs. One in which, over a mooted 20 volumes, thirty years of technology and current events are squeezed into a fiction-time of about three years.

I had studiously avoided very topical references – who cares where Jedward are now? There’s a sliding scale of people you can mention. For example, Any Winehouse and Ed Sheeran could go in but the ‘Bearded Lady’ Eurovision winner Conchita would feel like a flash in the pan. I’m avoiding any mention of Brexit and the like unless it’s germane to the plot.

Writers like PG Wodehouse could get away with creating worlds that have absolutely nothing to date them, but crime writers have to at least make a few acknowledgements to the real world. I’ve written plenty of zeitgeist novels and believe me, nothing dates faster except satire.

Then there’s the matter of my memory – never very reliable, but with well over a hundred characters mentioned in past B&M books it gets difficult finding them all. Although the Bryant & May novels are freestanding reads, there are callbacks tucked into the stories that reward loyal readers, and I have to make sure I get them right.

Here, regular site commenter Ian Alexander Martin used to keep me in line with a scarily detailed guide to who was where and when in the B&M universe (take a bow, Ian). Now, I wouldn’t wish the job on a dog because the books got bigger and broader in scope.

Yesterday I decided to revive an old character from one of the earlier books, and I wasted half a day looking for him because I was spelling his name wrongly. You’d think that each new volume would make the whole thing more and more unwieldy.

But no.

Because I know the characters inside out and have all their backstories in my head, writing scenes with them all is easy-peasy. Although there’s not much room in my head for anything else right now. Which is why I forgot bin bags when I went shopping today.

Inevitably, you get fewer and fewer reviews as a series progresses. ‘Oh, another volume,’ reviewers think with some justification. ‘They don’t need the air of publicity, I can skip them.’ Will my readership lose interest before I do? How do I keep things fresh this far along? I don’t know, but I’ve still not run out of ideas. Ultimately, one of three things will happen; they’ll become outdated and forgotten, time moving on around them. They’ll keep a certain timelessness that lets them stay in print. Or some farsighted person will work out how to make a TV series of them. I have a feeling the first option will come to pass – but you know what? That’s fine too.

For added hilarity I’ve included a suggested cover for a US edition of ‘The Burning Man’. You’ll be amazed to know I turned down the cat with its opposable thumbs.



17 comments on “The Perils Of Creating A Long-Running Series”

  1. Ian Luck says:

    Blackberry brought out a new ‘phone last year. I’ve never actually seen one, but the adverts on ‘ThouCylinder’ were annoying. I still have a fax machine at work – I often scribble messages on a bit of A4 with a Sharpie and send them across the large site where I work. It’s ancient tech, but it has never let us down. A fax machine (covered in bits of food, fruit stickers, and tobacco burns, and every sheet of paper that went into it would have an easily duplicated stain or mug ring on it) would be perfect for Arthur – if only to infuriate John.

  2. Peter Tromans says:

    ‘Legacy,’ ‘backwards compatibility,’ historical consistency … exist and make trouble in every sphere. If Dr John/James H/D Watsons’s leg/shoulder injury is an example, it’s not going to trouble anyone, certainly not his late wife who he may marry next year. So, don’t worry, with or without fax machines, we’ll be equally hungry for volume 200 of the series.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    I’m with Peter on this. We’re beginning to accept that each book is of itself. The only progress is in characters who are always there: will another cat replace Crippen (one of her kittens perhaps)? Will Mangeshcar ever accept a date request? Will April ever return to London?
    Thank you for the nice comment on my son. I won’t offer to do that job because, as you say, it is getting out of hand and my memory isn’t what it should be.

  4. Trace Turner says:

    The book of your that I read was The Victoria Vanishes, which I picked up to look at in the store because of the intriguing title. After that, I didn’t read the books in any particular order since there didn’t seem to be one other than publication date. It didn’t bother me as I just assumed it was a vaguely Dr Whovian concept of time. It might be amusing to write in some non-existent technology and wait for it to be invented. Didn’t Douglas Adams really invent the Kindle?

  5. admin says:

    I have a sneaky feeling that Mr Adams invented a lot of wonderful things, including the word for ‘the behaviour of sellotape when you’re tired.’

  6. Ian Mason says:


    It wasn’t Douglas Adams, it was Vannevar Bush, in an article in the the July 1945 edition of the Atlantic Monthly. Douglas Adams actually credited Vannevar Bush for the idea he used for “the book” in a documentary he made in the nineties called “Hyperland”.

    A quote from Bush’s article: “Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.”

  7. SteveB says:

    In Germany fax machines are still pretty ubiquitous. You have to explain to people there that back in London noone under the age of 30 knows what a fax machine is, and if I want to send a fax I have to walk to Rymans because no company in our entire office block has got one.

  8. Bruce Rockwood says:

    Perhaps fans will prepare a Bryant and May Wiki. Like Memory Alpha for Star Trek. Or a print concordance. One was done for Zelazny’s Amber novels by a fellow I knew who taught at a New York university. If you asked I bet someone would do it! Bruce

  9. Eliz Amber says:

    But you’ve got the perfect out – all these stories are supposedly related by Arthur, and as a narrator, he’s completely unreliable. So, it’s perfectly reasonable to imagine that a book that is meant to take place in the current world actually happened in the 90s. Arthur’s simply confused the biographer to the point that he doesn’t even question when Arthur throws in tigers and blitz bombs. He’s certainly not going to argue over a Blackberry. Or, the book does take place in the present, but Arthur wouldn’t know a Blackberry from an i-phone (and would prefer cups connected by string).

    Also, Raymond has forced faxes upon the office, not trusting discrete communication. (Fortunately, Janice has figured out how to fax things to themselves and then send them through the scanner.)

  10. Brian says:

    Opposable thumbs eh? I didn’t notice that probably because I was so impressed by the size of his donger.

  11. Ian Luck says:

    Is the word ‘Ardslingnish’ the one you’re looking for, Chris? It’s a town somewhere. My favourite is ‘Amlwch’. I expect every UK rail traveller in the 70’s and 80’s, encountered an ‘Amlwch’ at some time or other.

  12. Malcolm McKay says:

    Just finished The Lonely Hour. Somewhat more harder edged in many ways than previous books in the series. The removal of Renfield was a shock, I had come to quite like him.

    Poor Crippen, another loss. Will there be a replacement moggy one wonders. I’ve been a fan of the series for years. I first came across the earliest volumes in a shop selling cheap paperbacks – seems strange that they didn’t seem to have been sold more widely in Australia.

    As for faxes they are pretty much a thing of the past as far as I am concerned – the cartridges are now more difficult to get and a pain in the next to replace in the machine.

  13. admin says:

    It’s something I hear all the time, Malcolm – getting there books out there remains every author’s nightmare.
    There will be a new cat!
    Also, the next book will be more upbeat…

  14. Jan says:

    Yippee! No Renfield thank f**Ik for that!

    Are you ever going to get to a Post Office?

  15. Ian Luck says:

    Renfield’s in a loony bin somewhere, eating flies. Oh. Wrong one.

  16. Wayne Mook says:

    The fax is still in use in my office. The HP one is a combined printer, scanner, copier and fax, it uses bog standard HP carts.

    The fax is actually older than the phone, and it still has it’s uses.


  17. glasgow1975 says:

    I admit Crippen’s demise and the way it was dealt with did upset me, so yay for Crippen 2.0

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