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.
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.