Bryant & May: The Shaping Of A Series

Bryant and May

B&M15 STI’m currently working on the 15th Bryant & May novel, but it’s only now, this far into the series, that I’ve started seeing the shape of what I’m producing.

As I have friends who are just starting out on reading the books I’ve been trying to see them through their eyes, and by that process trying to discover what on earth I’m creating. Writers should never stop learning but that creates problems – when people say they prefer your early work it means they haven’t grown with you.

When I set out to create a series, the basic idea was simple; to do something no-one had done – in my knowledge – before, to set Golden Age detectives in the modern world and transpose those old plots into fresh environments. The trouble is that many old crime novels are all mechanics and no character. The plots were often brilliant, but in these times character drives stories, so I started to develop the cast more and let them shape the tales.

This began happening after Book Three, ‘Seventy Seven Clocks’, which was all plot and little character. From Book Four onward, the detectives’ various quirks begin to influence events – Bryant’s memory starts to play tricks on him, May begins to feel his age around women, Longbright’s loneliness saddens her, Raymond Land’s wife becomes unfaithful and so on.

By the time I reached ‘The Burning Man’ I found I had moved the series on quite a bit without disrupting the essence of the stories, but now I wanted to traumatise the unit and spark a bit of a change. There’s always a danger that you’ll disappoint readers who like things as they are, so the balancing act was tricky. Now, in the upcoming ‘Strange Tide’, out March 26th, you’ll find a new development that puts a slightly different spin on things. This helps me to keep a feeling of freshness about the tales.B&MST US

At this point I had originally planned a new spin-off series – I’d put in quite a lot of work on it – but it felt like I might be abandoning Bryant & May for a new younger character to their detriment, and as I’m still having fun writing their dialogue I’ve deferred the spin-off to a later date.

Then there was the question of ancillary cast members – who should come back and who should be dumped? I didn’t want to end up in a Jar Jar Binks situation. I miss hacker Rufus, villainous Mr Merry and Harold Masters & the Insomnia Squad, but now have Darren ‘Missing’ Link, Dr Gillespie and others. There’s not room for everyone!

There are parts of the writing process I love and some I hate. Heaven is the second draft, when you know you have the story locked and you can relax and have fun. Hell is the first draft when you realise the idea isn’t going to work out as you’d hoped.

After ‘Strange Tide’ will come at least two more Bryant & May novels, ‘Wild Chamber’ and ‘Hall of Mirrors’ (title TBC), both of which will provide fresh twists in the saga. I enjoyed writing the short story collection ‘London’s Glory’, which got very nice notices – I take critics’ comments very much to heart, but I’ve been generally lucky with reviews. Now the shape of the series seems clear to me, and the books are easier to write than my standalone novels. Above right is the US cover for ‘Strange Tide’. I have no idea why there are roses, and it made me laugh when I realised that – yet again – they’d managed to shoehorn in Big Ben, making nonsense of the river’s geography (having said that, the UK cover puts the Tower of London up against Tower Bridge!)


17 comments on “Bryant & May: The Shaping Of A Series”

  1. Adam says:

    Excellent news indeed! The new book comes out just before I’m on a transatlantic flight, so that’s my entertainment sorted (especially if I can block out the never-ending cabin announcements. You don’t need to keep telling me the duty free trolley is coming round later, then again just before it does, and then again to herald its arrival…)

  2. Olz says:

    Just finished reading book 12, the burning man and let my self sink into the ocean of bereavement which accompanies the demise of any people you come to love and care for… Only to find out there’s another three books! My emotions feel like overworked rubber bands. I’m off to read something beige until I can get myself under control. #Twilight

  3. Wanda Greenwell says:

    I too am in tears feeling the loss of someone I feel has become a friend to me. I am looking forward to seeing what happens to Bryant and May in the next 2 books. I have really enjoyed the series and have become a big fan of them. Thanks for sharing your talent and giving us a series we look forward to with each book.

  4. Wayne says:

    You just keep on feeding us addicts……

    Now I really do have to make extra shelf space, another three full novels! I am chuffed to bits. I have enjoyed B&M from the off, my favourite is still Full Dark House. I am really looking forward to the next one and to know there are going to be at least two more after that, well, gosh what more could a boy want…..

  5. Stephen says:

    Looking forward to the new novel, and how you deal with the ending of The Burning Man in it.

  6. Peter Dixon says:

    Christopher, your skill in this series is the linking of the extra character – London – with a pair of fascinating, curmudgeonly (I spelled that right first time!) and endearing leads. Bryant and May appeal to autodidacts and pub quizmasters throughout the world, as well as the enormous audience who enjoy good, clean murder and mayhem with a satisfying ending.
    I’ve loved fictional London through ‘Steptoe and Son’, Charles Dickens,Sherlock Holmes, Ackroyd (Peter, not Roger), Margery Allingham, The Saint, Wodehouse, Fu Manchu and lots of others. You maintain a direct blood line to the sleeping horrors of a great city together with an obvious love of what is lost day-by-day and can never return.

    Just keep doing it.

    (£50 sovs in a brown envelope mate, nothing traced back)

  7. Jo W says:

    Wow,Chris. Another three full B&M novels to look forward to! A good job I got the go ahead from the Doc this week to go back to reading long stories. I’ll have to get ‘im indoors to sort out more shelving.;-)

  8. Lorraine Hopkinson says:

    Since ‘Full Dark House’ I’ve eagerly awaited the release of every other B&M mystery. No other quirky characters quite like them and the cases are as clever, intriguing and entertaining as ever. Arthur’s eccentric behaviour and comments never fail to make me laugh out loud (I’m forever wishing I actually knew someone like him) he’s an absolute delight. I loved the short stories in ‘London’s Glory’ and I’m looking forward to the next three novels that are lined up. So chuffed that you decided to keep them going!

  9. Jeanette says:

    Chris, I need some Bryant and May bookends. Maybe Arthur Bryant and John May each end. Please say yes that you can divert from writing, and have someone make these.

  10. Jenny Spencer says:

    Wonderful news. Looking forward to the next three Bryant and May books .Ever hopeful, could you possibly continue writing these amazing,magical books for at least another six or seven. Call me greedy if you must.They’ve got a long way to go yet, Bryant and May that is.

  11. Judi Ducker says:

    I’ve just finished the Burning Man so I’m absolutely ecstatic that the final comment is true! They WILL be back. Now I can hardly wait until March!

  12. Laura Humphrey says:

    Can’t add much to what has already been said, I am so thrilled THEY are back. I read the books and then listen to the audiobooks to enjoy what I have missed. Mr Fowler your imagination and neural dexterity is boundless, So waiting for the next three and many more besides I hope

  13. davem says:

    pre-ordered … looking forward to it

  14. m says:

    I much prefer the UK covers. I’m very much looking forward to the new books.

  15. Patience Beer says:

    Please forgive a question that you must have answered many times and of which you are heartily weary, but how old are Bryant and May? Bryant is apparently the older but if they were working during WWII they must be at least 90.

    I am currently reading The Burned Man and enjoying it immensely. Not surprising since I’ve gobbled up the books from the first one.

  16. admin says:

    Patience, you’re right, this comes up from time to time. The age-slip is explained in several of the novels. Although the unit was founded during the war, Bryant’s memoirs of the cases fancifully place him at its inception, a fact frequently disputed by his boss, Raymond Land. Bryant points out that his memories of cases, as set down in the books, present an idealised version of events – i.e. he wasn’t there for the earliest ones. So how old does that make them?

    There’s a way of working that out – although one memoir is published each year, the months in which the investigations occur run consecutively, meaning that fifteen books only amount to a little over a year…I hope that clears it up!

  17. Michelle dempsey says:

    Just started London’s Glory which I had to order from Waterstones on Sunday, I have missed Mr Bryant and Mr May and am eagerly waiting for the next instalment on March 26. I have listened to most of the books on audible as well and wondered if London Glory would be available anytime soon.

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