Series Writing: A Series of Fortunate Mistakes - Guest Post from Author Deborah Valentine

Series Writing: 

A Series of Fortunate Mistakes

I was asked recently whether I preferred writing a series or standalone novels. It was a bit of an ironic question with an equally ironic answer. Because I’ve never written a standalone novel. And also because in both cases, the Kevin Bryce crime series and the mainstream series I’ve started in The Knightmare, I didn’t know I was going to write a series.

So, I suppose the answer is: yes, I do prefer a series. I must. And then I wondered: why?

After pondering this at length (wittering away the hours between letting the draft of my next book rest, which is absolutely killing me, and picking it up again) I’ve finally come to a conclusion, one that treks back to the reason I read in the first place.

I don’t know when you started your love affair with books but my mum started teaching me to read from the moment I was coordinated enough to hold one in my tiny hand. Family legend says I was reading at age two-and-a-half. Our family legends are notoriously unreliable (not to say, play so fast and loose with the truth they’re almost entirely fictional) but, this time, I don’t think it was much of a stretch because I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a bad case of ‘nose in book’. I used to play truant from school, not to smoke behind the barn or snog someone I fancied, but to read. Deep down I always felt books weren’t merely places to visit for the thrill of finding out what happened, but places to live. Characters were friends whose worlds I chose to inhabit. The universe the author created appealed to my sense of how life should be lived. I loved the use of language. Stories were just lovely places to be even when the circumstances portrayed were horrific or dangerous or completely ridiculous. But I could spend time with Anne of Green Gables or Jane Eyre or Elizabeth Bennet and feel I was participating in dialogue I couldn’t get on a day-to-day basis. And if I didn’t like a world, I didn’t have to stay there. Hence my never re-reading Little Women (in retrospect I’m surprised I finished it, but I was more conscientious in those days than I am now). I’m referencing the early classics here, and certainly my tastes were always broader and continue to widen, but the essential principle hold true overall. To this day it’s not unusual for me to finish a book I’ve enjoyed and immediately go back to the beginning to start again. I’ve done it lately with Graham Joyce’s The Silent Land, Matt Haig’s The Radleys and Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling. Why? Because I don’t want to leave that world, those people, behind.

And that’s why I write series fiction.

When I began Unorthodox Methods, the first of the Kevin Bryce crime novels, I thought when the story ended it would, well, end. By the time it was finished, I knew I’d made a mistake. There was much to explore in those characters, their situations and relationships. I was far from ready to leave them behind. It’s the same with The Knightmare, the first novel in the new series, although I knew far (far!) sooner there were more adventures on the way. Again, I fell in love with those people and their world; I found more layers, greater expansion of their relationships and backstory, and the effect it would have on their future. Like good friends, I didn’t want to abandon them, relishing their company just as I do Kevin Bryce & Co. I feel fortunate to share my life with them and continue to get to know them better. And that boils down to once you know someone well, whether in real life or fiction, you have more fun with them. It’s an intimacy thing.

Every book, in a sense, is a standalone. In a series, you never know which book a reader will pick up first. It’s a difficult balance, a real craft, to perform—clueing new readers into past events enough so they’re not left behind in the current story, while not taxing the patience of those who have read the previous ones. On the other hand... let’s review what’s actually going on when you pick up a book: you’re not just finding out what happens but entering a dimension to luxuriate in. Spoilers aren’t always as big an issue as one might suppose, neither is not being completely aware of all the preceding circumstances. After all, do you know the life stories of all your friends? Do you like them or want to be with them any the less because you don’t?

Outside The Knightmare series I have two other books in the ‘idea and notes’ stage I’m itching to do one day and believe are going to be self-contained, ‘standalones’. At least, that’s what I think.

But perhaps that’s another fortunate mistake.

Meet Deborah Valentine

Deborah Valentine is a British author, editor and screenwriter who once lived in California but far preferred the British weather and fled to London, where she has lived for many years. Her crime novels, with ‘a touch of Margaret Millar’ (Sunday Telegraph), feature former California sheriff Kevin Bryce and his artist girlfriend, Katharine Craig, charting their turbulent romance amidst murder and mayhem. Unorthodox Methods is the first in the series, followed by A Collector of Photographs, and the Ireland-based Fine Distinctions. A Collector of Photographs was shortlisted for several awards, including an Edgar and a Macavity. Fine Distinctions was also shortlisted for an Edgar. They have been digitally reissued on Orion’s The Murder Room imprint. In addition to the Kevin Bryce series Deborah Valentine has been the editor of a number of niche-market journals and is a prolific writer of articles, screenplays and a new series of novels with supernatural themes beginning with The Knightmare. She is a Goodreads author.

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Series Writing: A Series of Fortunate Mistakes - Guest Post from Author Deborah Valentine Series Writing: A Series of Fortunate Mistakes - Guest Post from Author Deborah Valentine Reviewed by Joshua Cook on 11:30 PM Rating: 5

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