Bryant & May: In For The Long Run Part 2

London

In any crime series consistency is as important as originality.

You’re not pulling off the trick once but again and again, without repeating yourself or deviating too far from the elements that attracted your readership in the first place. But it’s also a race to see whether you or your readers tire first. I don’t find consistency a problem because I know the characters inside out and have their backstories in my head, so writing their scenes comes easily. However, there’s not much room in my head for anything else, which is why I forgot bin bags again when I went shopping today.

As for originality, I ask myself what readers would least expect me to do, and what they would most like me to do. I read all online replies and take many comments to heart. Recently I sat in on a chatroom and listened to readers discussing where they thought I’d gone wrong in an earlier book – it’s an instructive if sobering experience. Although a couple of them were mad.

Inevitably, most of us receive fewer reviews as a crime series progresses. ‘Oh, another volume with the same characters,’ space-pressed reviewers think, with some justification. ‘They don’t need the air of publicity, they have a loyal readership.’ It’s hard finding younger readers. The compliment I dread most is; ‘My (insert aged relative) loves your books’, which means “I am naturally far too busy to read foolish fiction but my (aged relative) who is housebound and barely lucid enjoys them as an alternative to watching Cash in the Attic.’

Will readers lose interest before I do? How do you continue to keep things fresh? I add in new characters, try different styles, tell (hopefully) better jokes, tuck references into the stories that reward loyalty. Whenever a new book in the series comes out, sales of the first novel rise. The most common question at signings tables is ‘Which book of yours should I start with?’ I suggest they start in the middle of the run. They creep off and buy ‘Full Dark House’.

I’ve not run out of ideas yet but eventually one of three things will happen. One, my detectives will become outdated and forgotten as time moves on around them. Two, they’ll achieve a certain timelessness that allows them to stay in print (desired outcome). Three, some farsighted or possibly deranged 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. I’m in my dream job and it’s a wonderful journey.

12 comments on “Bryant & May: In For The Long Run Part 2”

  1. Dave Kearns says:

    Just as long as you don’t fall victim to what I call “Martha Grimes syndrome” – the need to bring every character in one book forward to the next one. Some characters are best with occasional guest appearances, some (well, not counting victims and perpetrators) really only need a single appearance. Keep to a small, recurring cast of characters. That’ll keep me coming back.

  2. Colin says:

    I have just bought the latest book and have just started it so I may be jumping the gun, but I would like to see more of Meera and Colin and some of the other background characters. I know they are Bryant and May books but….
    Would be good to see Colin and Meera finally get together!

  3. Jan says:

    Why don’t you include Bimsley senior in one of the books?

    He might hold hold vital information scribbled in one of his pocketbooks that Mr. B or Mr. M need to consult him about. You could go back to one of your much earlier novels and give it a bit but of a rewrite. Oh hang on I’m forgetting you’ve pulled that particular stunt off once b4!!! Preferably the aged Bimsley pa could appear in the story where Colin and Meera achieve some some of resolution to their relationship. Just suggesting.

  4. SteveB says:

    We’re all mad, not just a couple!
    I think a book that kept the setup but changed the perspective on it would be interesting. Like Len Deighton did at the end of his final Bernie Samson trilogy, by going from first person to third and widening out the timespan.

  5. Dave Kearns says:

    Changing perspective is really difficult. If not handled extremely well, the average reader is left hopelessly confused.

  6. Brooke says:

    ..hopelessly confused…that won’t bother B&M loyalists. As StevenB said….

    No relationship resolutions in B&M, please. In any way, shape or form. John, recovering and realizing he needs reliable steady female companionship, marries Janice!#$. Arthur, in return for Alma’s devotion, becomes an evangelical christian and devotes his time to working with her ladies’ group on their prayer missions##@ ugh. As StevenB said….

  7. Adam says:

    …I’d like to see poor old Raymond find love (even if it doesn’t last)..

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Anything to give Raymondo some happiness. He’s a kind soul, if somewhat bemused much of the time, so perhaps if we have another cat he could meet someone at the vet’s? Perhaps the vet!?

  9. John Howard says:

    Agreed on wonderful journey. And what Helen says.

  10. LAM says:

    I’m 3/4 of the way through Hall of Mirrors—not because I don’t acquire the books the minute they come out in the U.S., but because I wait until the next one is coming out in the UK to start reading. I live in terror the series will end and I will go into sudden withdrawal. I really like the Golden Age whodunnit/puzzle mystery, and I’m loving this take on the genre. When the first atmospheric raven took flight, I thought you might be gilding the lily—as further crows and rooks followed, I nearly died laughing. (It’s like a mad gothicist’s take on Portlandia’s “Put a bird on it!”) When you are silly, when you are serious, when you are creepy, when you are sad, when you are political—you are always narratively intelligent and aware of the range of opportunities the genre affords. I love that I never know what I will get next in the series. You keep earning my trust with each book, not by repeating the same formula in a comforting way, but by deftly taking these characters and making them equally at home (equally uncomfortable?) in different types of story. (Do not, however, let Crippen start solving the cases. Well, honestly, I wouldn’t put it past you to find some weird, not twee way of doing that, but still, maybe not.) I do think there may be more narrative to be got out of the Daves…

  11. admin says:

    You see, readers? This is how to delight an author. I think I understand now why I don’t reach a bigger readership; ‘narrative intelligence’. I must remember to put in more fist-fights.

  12. Glasgow1975 says:

    Always write a shopping list silly . . .

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