I think as writers we thrive on challenges. It’s the ambition of most of us to write something big and memorable that stretches us to the literary limit. However, what tend to get in the way are deadlines. Right from the beginning of my career, I’ve been contracted to write a book a year, delivered on the same date. It hasn’t always been easy. In fact, at times it’s been a nightmare. I started my sixth book, Severed, no less than twelve times before finally getting it right on the thirteenth attempt, by which time I only had six weeks to write the whole thing – something I only managed to do with the aid of coffee, adrenaline and three hours sleep a night. And it was during Christmas. It was such a gruesome experience that I’ve been almost obsessively careful about how I plot my books ever since, and have made it a point not to bite off more than I can chew.
However, for the last few years, I’ve had an idea for a series of books with one single overriding story arc, where each successive book follows on from the other, floating round my head. Over time, as so often happens with my ideas, I wrote the details of the idea down, then began expanding on it bit by bit until late in 2015 I found myself staring at a twenty-page document detailing a plot that would cover a total of four books. The story centres round the mystery of a girl who disappeared in Thailand 25 years ago, but whose body was then dug up in the grounds of a school in Buckinghamshire along with that of another missing girl, and the subsequent hunt for those responsible – a hunt that would reveal a terrible web of corruption in high places, and lead to a group of ruthless murderers who’d been killing for a long, long time.
I knew I had to write this series, even though the story was far more ambitious than one I’d ever attempted. The memory of that Christmas desperately writing Severed had faded enough that in January 2016, I took the plunge and started writing The Bone Field. I’m a great fan of American box set dramas like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, and one of the things I love about them is their unpredictability. Popular, much-loved characters die, usually nastily, and often without any warning. The story yanks off on a tangent; viewers are left off balance, and it was exactly this feeling that I wanted to replicate for The Bone Field series. I’ve introduced several new protagonists but have also brought in many of the popular characters from my earlier books. Some will really be put through the mill. Many of them won’t make it to the end. In fact, there’s no guarantee any of them will, and although this might upset some readers, it’s a hugely liberating feeling for me as the writer because it means I can operate with complete flexibility.
One of the hardest things about being a thriller writer is keeping the momentum going throughout the story, and the beauty of writing a series like this is that I have the time and the space to weave a number of subplots involving different characters into the narrative. The result is, what feels for me a much bigger story, one where there’s always plenty happening, but where the pace remains just as fast as my readers have come to expect from me.
One of the other hardest things, particularly when you’ve got sixteen books under your belt as I have, is coming up with new ideas. Usually, as a new year beckons, I’m frantically trying to think of my next plot – a process that, as any crime writer will tell you, seems to get harder each time. But now, for the first time in years, I know exactly what I’m going to be writing, and I’m more excited about it than I’ve been since I embarked on my debut novel, The Business of Dying, almost seventeen years ago.
For me, The Bone Field series is the culmination of my whole thriller writing career, a chance to tie together plots and characters from earlier books, to create a story that readers will want to immerse themselves in and follow right through to the bitter, bloody end – an end I’ve already written and yet am actually terrified of reaching, because I have no idea what lies beyond.