Sequel Writes

Cough.  Dusty in here, isn’t it?  As if no-one’s been around for quite a while.  Well, I’ll stop apologising for the infrequency of the posts on here  – I’ve all kinds of excuses but you don’t want to hear those – and just get on with writing something.  And then try to do it more often.

I’m just in the middle of going through the line edits for Nowhere to Hide, the sequel to Trust No One (which by the way is still available in paperback and, at a remarkable bargain price, on Kindle), which is due out from those excellent people at Avon/HarperCollins in October.  Fortunately, the line edits look straightforward for the most part so I’m actually enjoying going back to a book that I’ve deliberately not looked at since I finished working on it a month or two back.  It’s been an interesting book to write because, unlike anything I’ve done before, it’s a genuine sequel rather than just the continuation of a series – and most of the current edits are concerned with getting that right.

When I started writing Nowhere to Hide, I wasn’t particularly conscious of doing anything different from the books I’d written before.  My three Mongolian books are a series with recurrent characters and, across the three books, a gradual narrative arc in which the protagonists and their situations develop.  Relationships are formed, roles slowly change, new characters appear and join the core team.  It’s the tried and trusted way of developing a crime series – exemplified at its best by series as diverse as Ed MacBain’s 87th Precinct series, Ian Rankin’s Rebus or the late great Reginald Hill’s Pascoe and Dalziel series.  The latter two writers have also written about the practical challenges of maintaining that kind of series – Rebus ages in real time, whereas Dalziel and Pascoe, as Hill acknowledged wittily in his introduction to the novella One Small Step, develop consistently but not always in step with the outside world.  For a writer (or, at least, for this writer), series writing is uniquely pleasurable, in that one can enjoy creating the pace of each standalone narrative while also taking a more leisurely perspective on character and situation development.  In the Mongolian books, for example, I very much enjoyed exploring the maturing relationship between Nergui and his former protege Doripalam, as the latter became more confident in his role and abilities and even began to take on a protege of his own…  I have a fourth Mongolian book plotted and part-written (and which I hope will see the light of day in due course) which takes this overarching story still further.

For the reader, this isn’t particularly problematic.  If you read the three Mongolian books in order, you’ll probably get slightly more out of the evolving back-story, but it’s unlikely to ruin your enjoyment (assuming you do enjoy them) if you read them out of order.  It’s relatively rare for crime authors to continue major plot threads across multiple books in a way that might be challenging for ‘disordered’ readers – though Jo Nesbo did it brilliantly across several Harry Hole books, leaving some readers mildly floundering when the books were translated out of order.

The relationship between Trust No One and Nowhere to Hide, though, is (for me) something a little different.  When I started to write Trust No One, I’d certainly envisaged it as part of a series, along broadly the same lines as the Mongolian books.  But as I gradually began to pull together the threads of the plot, it occurred to me that the core theme of the book – which, not entirely surprisingly, is the difficulty knowing who or what to trust – might lend itself to a more intriguing ending.  My aim was to tie up most of the major loose ends, but to leave one or two key ones still flapping in the air so that the reader was left with the some of the same uncertainties as the main character.  I hope (and think) that Trust No One  is satisfying as a standalone book, but it also prepares the ground for what happens in Nowhere to Hide.  The second book continues the story and, in due course, resolves most of those flapping loose ends, while inevitably also introducing some new ones which themselves may or may not be resolved…  Even more enjoyably, though, I was also able to use the second book to cast new light on the first – re-opening issues which had appeared resolved, giving a different perspective on some characters, revisiting issues which had been only casually referenced or left unexplained.

With this in mind, writing (and editing) the book has been an interesting challenge.  Clearly, the reader’s likely to get most from the books if they’re read in order.  But I also wanted to make sure that the second book would work, satisfyingly, as a standalone book.  I didn’t want a new reader to feel that he or she was simply coming in part-way through the story.  So I’ve tried to make sure that the back-story is provided unobtrusively, as it might be in any novel, providing the reader with the information he or she needs to follow the plot, but without labouring the detail.  But of course it’s difficult for me, because I know the overall story inside out, to judge quite what the new reader does or doesn’t need to know.  So I’ve been very grateful for my editors at Avon, led by the ever-wonderful Sammia Rafique, for providing a detached third-party perspective and helping me to identify where more (or less) information is needed.  I’m now in the process of filling in one or two of those remaining gaps.  It’s been fun to do, and I can only hope now that the book proves as enjoyable for others to read as it’s been for me to write.