Bryant & May: Your Comments Answered
I’ve described the struggles of creating a long-term detective series, and you sent back some very interesting comments, so let me go through some of the main points.
The idea of favouring Bryant over May goes to the heart of the problem with a series. There has always been a weight toward Bryant because every double-act has a leader whether it intends to or not. To Wild Eric I would say persevere with ‘The Lonely Hour’ because the second half is more May than Bryant. I try to shift the balance from time to time.
I put the PCU under threat to destabilise it. You cannot have a lot of people sitting around in an endless series of rooms discussing problems. Novels need conflict, upset and opposition. Most mystery novels operate on a fairly small scale, unwrapping a puzzle and examining it from all sides. ‘The Lonely Hour’ appears to have split readers between those who like the chaotic pell-mell of all the characters on the loose (as in, say, ‘The Burning Man’) and those who want a single traditional problem to be gradually solved.
When I dropped Bryant & May into a country house mystery and set scenes in Camden in the sixties it was too big a jump for some readers – but they know that the next book will take them back to the elements they prefer. (See Keith Page’s drawing above – anyone else remember that giant chair? His one of Spitalfields is below.)
I’m aware that several crime writers are winding down their characters, but why? They’re not real. Fiction can do as it pleases. I don’t care if James Bond is a black woman so long as she exhibits all the characteristic of Bond. We want our heroes at full strength, not watered down. That’s why I’ve chosen to go back to full-on madness for ‘Oranges & Lemons’, the next novel, complete with notes, asides, a murderer’s confession running through the book and anything else I fancy (I’m still writing it).
As a future idea I’m quite drawn to writing one from Bryant’s point of view in the first person, and have other narratives tricks up my sleeve. I don’t want to wind them down, make them ill or decrepit, and may tinker with making them a bit younger if I feel like it. I’ve laid the groundwork by establishing that Bryant’s memoirs are unreliable.
So long as the books still exhibit wit, energy and heart, why stop? I am not at all bored by my characters, and have plenty of ideas for fresh adventures. Besides, when authors abandon a series to write something new, they rarely take readers with them. My switch to thrillers hit a road-block with the debut novel because the editor reneged on a promise to produce a print edition after its appearance as an e-book. ‘Little Boy Found’ (a title not suggested by me) was meant to start a new line of thrillers.
But as I always say, consistency is as important as originality, and providing you have an outlet for the two you should keep going at full strength. Hell, let’s make that double strength. And Rebus should stop fading and bounce back to form. So there. Give readers the biggest, most pleasing selection of styles and stories possible, and let ’em choose their own favourites. Vivat Bryant!