Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Writing Duffy 5

from the Serpents Tail monthly newsletter:

So why write a fifth Sean Duffy novel? Dr Johnson said that only a fool ever wrote anything but for the money. So, yeah, admittedly, there was that: after a decade in this business I’d finally written a series of books that connected with the public and that people have actually wanted to purchase! I've always been extremely fortunate and gotten good reviews for my books but nobody had ever wanted to actually buy the blasted things...until now. So I’m glad that I listened to my canny editor who told me not to kill the main character in a helicopter crash at the end of book 4 as was the original plan. She was right.
But still, in a number of places over the years I have come out strongly against book series, especially in crime fiction, that overstay their welcome. The character repeats him or herself and credulity is strained beyond breaking point. When I lived in Oxford for example there hadn’t been a murder in the previous seven years but Inspector Morse was getting a double murder every single week. The dissonance between the reality and the fiction was a gap that in my mind was hard to bridge.
Fortunately for me my character, Sean Duffy, inhabits 1980s Northern Ireland where incredible, horrifying and unlikely events happened all the time. Taking Duffy chronologically through the 1980s was a way of having him intersect with some of these more spectacular stories, while still keeping his feet firmly rooted in a reality of sorts.
But even so I was reluctant to write a fifth book in this series unless the character himself grew, arced and changed. We’ve all read series novels where the writer effectively hits the reset at the start of each new book. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted my characters to grow and change and become different men and women than they were in previous books. Northern Ireland in the 1980s was a hothouse atmosphere which matured people very quickly and if Sean Duffy were to remain interesting to me and the readers he had to change too.
I therefore only agreed to write Duffy #5, Rain Dogs, when I plotted out a storyline that would greatly change Duffy’s personal circumstances. And hopefully readers will stay with me for those changes and come along for the usual thrills, spills and pints of the black stuff too.