And The 20th Bryant & May Will Be…
The handsome paperback of ‘The Lonely Hour’ is out in the UK now, and I have copies to give away in a London treasure hunt, but sadly this is not the time to do it.
Hopefully the future schedule won’t change. In July the hardback of ‘Oranges & Lemons’ arrives, to be followed in November by the paperback of ‘England’s Finest’. At least, that was the schedule pre-apocalypse. I’m not sure where we stand if books are pulled. Somewhere in this mix I hope to find a buyer for ‘Summer Dies’, my stand-alone thriller. It took me ages to get it exactly right, and I’m dying to know what readers think about a thriller that deliberately removes a key ingredient, as this does.
For me, paperback publications – where the majority of my readership lies – are strange events, falling at least two years after I’ve put that book to bed. They’re also undersold by publishers, who put all of their PR efforts into hardback launches. There’s a tradition of press reviewers only reviewing hardbacks. This now feels like an ancient historical rite, and rather snooty, yet it’s still adhered to. I don’t put much store by print press because their reviewers tend to practice cronyism and many have a shockingly limited reading range. These days most of the best crime reviewers work for respected websites like Crimereads and Crimetime. I trust the Guardian for modern fiction and Sunday Times for historical/ factual books, but get the rest of my reading recommendations from specialist websites.
Before I embarked on the twentieth Bryant & May I wondered; how often can I use the same characters without wearing out the reader? Looking to the past, one can see that Sherlock Holmes starred in 56 stories and four novels, R Austin Freeman’s Dr Thorndyke appeared in 40 short stories and 22 novels, Agatha Christie used Hercule Poirot in 33 novels, while her contemporary Gladys Mitchell used her detective Mrs Bradley in 66 books. Dorothy L Sayers only wrote 11 Lord Peter Wimsey novels, but Robert Van Gulik wrote 25 Judge Dee novels. Edmund Crispin managed nine Gervaise Fen novels and 42 short stories, and one of those was called, ‘We Know You’re Busy Writing, But We Thought You Wouldn’t Mind If We Just Dropped In For A Minute’. When it comes to totals Christie also wrote an additional 50 short stories featuring Hercule Poirot, so she wins on volume.
These figures prove a key point in genre fiction; consistency is second to originality.
I keep refreshing the B&M formula and I have no plans to retire my characters. Volume seems important as readers develop a loyalty, but it also creates its own issues – critics generally stop reviewing you after the first book. I’ve been lucky with my reviews but it’s tricky finding the balance between providing familiarity and fresh surprises.
I could have some fun and play around with the formula, drop Bryant & May into different alternative takes on London, but when you start messing around with the things that work you risk damaging the whole. Lately I’ve noticed that the stories have been getting a bit epic, so after the twentieth I plan to scale them down and make them more human.
Which brings me to the twentieth, which will be called ‘London Bridge Is Falling Down’. Some of you on his site know where I’ve been researching but I still plan to wrong-foot you with an unusual plot. Part of the challenge these days is outwitting regular readers.