They say familiarity breeds contempt but not always, particularly when you are an author. There is an almost cosy familiarity in writing a series and returning to characters you’ve written about before. You know them already, have a good understanding of what makes them tick and instinctively know how they will react to the problems you throw at them. You don’t have to spend hours inventing their back story either, because it’s there already.
I’ve written two crime fiction series and it is nice to watch your lead characters evolve over several books. Sometimes though, you just need a change and to be freed from the limitations of established protagonists, who would look ridiculous if they suddenly started acting wildly out of character, purely for a new storyline. When I first had the idea for Alice Teale Is Missing it was clear to me that new characters were needed and this one would be a standalone.
Beth Winter isn’t a classic ‘rookie cop’ but she is one of a new-breed of young, direct-entry detectives, skipping the formative years in uniform to go straight into CID. On passing the National Investigators exam, Beth gets to take on bigger cases. Her first is the sudden disappearance of a missing, seventeen-year-old girl, Alice Teale. She will be working with DS Lucas Black but Beth is in for a shock when she learns he once killed someone. Alice’s home, Collemby, is a town full of secrets but it turns out Alice’s is the biggest of them all.
Strangely both of my crime series began life as standalones. I didn’t actually imagine those characters would reappear. My first book The Drop followed white-collar, gangster David Blake, who has 72 hours to find some missing money. Even before I finished writing it, I started wondering what Blake might do next and his story eventually became a trilogy.
I then wrote another standalone. My agent called me from the London Book Fair to tell me Penguin wanted the book… and two more. This was wonderful news but then Phil said my new editor couldn’t wait to see where I was going to go with the series.’ Oh shit, I thought, ‘what series?’
It was a nice problem to have, so I thought about where my three main characters – Detective Ian Bradshaw and journalists, Tom Carney and Helen Norton – might be a year or so after the conclusion of No Name Lane. Somehow a story flowed from that and became Behind Dead Eyes. Phew. I followed this with The Search and The Chosen Ones and each book has reached a wider readership.
A standalone might be considered a bit of risk then but early reviews for Alice Teale Is Missing are, thankfully, excellent. Some even said they wanted more of Beth Winter and Lucas Black. So, could my standalone actually become a series – again? Maybe, but that will have to wait. I’m writing my next book and that one is a standalone. Definitely! At least, I think it is.