Writer’s diary: Stardate: 07.03.2014
There’s only one thing on my mind this week: A Dog’s Life – The Fourth Romney and Marsh File.
As you can see, I have the cover – I like it a lot. Slots right in with the rest of the series – and the emanuscript is with the gentleman who does my proofreading these days.
I am terrifically excited and excitedly terrified in equal and opposite measure.
I feel a weight of expectation for this title unlike anything I felt for my two Acer Sansom books and the Booker and Cash title. They were new directions – virgin territory for me as a writer. Romney and Marsh are semi-established, like a Russian military presence in Ukraine without the laughs.
I understand that the R&M Files have a small fan base (this knowledge makes me so proud). There are readers who are looking forward to the next in the series – they’ve told me so. It is inevitable that readers of the series are going to judge it against the others. It’s what we do when we’re into characters and a series of books. Nothing wrong with that. It’s natural. It’s the way of things.
I’m a student of Amazon charts, readers’ comments, other crime writers’ feedback. All the big guns who have a decent crime series going attract a large number of comments that often have something to say on a particular title’s merits when compared to what’s gone before. But now I’m the other side of the inkwell, I can tell you, it makes me nervous.
Even with only the three R&M Files that are out, I’ve had a fair few comments comparing them. Readers have their favourites. A few readers have voiced disappointment when comparing one title (usually the third) to others. I didn’t have a problem with those comments because I took the series in a direction that was not planned from the start and if one was reading the books in order, I can accept that one might feel the difference and not warm to it.
Let me explain. I never set out to write a series of crime books. It just happened. I wrote Rope Enough and when I finished I thought that there might be another book in those characters. I enjoyed the writing experience. It was about halfway through writing Making A Killing that I realised the direction I wanted to take the characters in. Followers of this blog will know that I think I’m funny sometimes. Halfway through Making A Killing I serendipitously arrived at an opportunity to try a bit of humour. I liked it. I enjoyed it. I tried a bit more and then I went back and looked for anywhere I could fish for a smirk from my reader. In Joint Enterprise I went looking for funny with a net. It was a large part of my thinking whenever I sat down to write. That first one, Rope Enough, was altogether more serious, although I do remember just one or two very small occurrences that cropped up and made me smile. But I kept a lid on it. It was a crime novel after all, a police procedural. They’re not supposed to be humorous.
Humour is such a personal thing. It’s dangerous to try in a crime book. Risky. But for me it’s utterly worth it if it can be pulled off. However, as a series goes on it must become more and more difficult to be originally funny with the same characters and the same locations.
And then there’s the crime and it’s solving. Crime writing has a rich and illustrious history. It must be one of the most popular reading and writing genres. There are so many great classic crime novels and contemporary ones and then there are thousands that are still very good. And what they must all have is a good crime that is well solved. If that criterion isn’t fulfilled readers are going to get tetchy. When readers of crime pick up a crime book it’s like a contract has been entered into. They have a right to their expectations regarding the writer’s ability to craft a believable criminal yarn. Everything else is secondary.
The Romney and Marsh Files are not great police procedural novels. I do not have the background or the knowledge or the time and energy to make them totally authentic and detailed by deep research or driving around in the back of my local police patrol car as an observer. (Wouldn’t work here anyway because Istanbul’s nothing like Dover. They drive on the wrong side of the road for a start.) So what I try to do is skate around the minutiae of the procedure. My R&M Files are about my characters. They are about how I imagine a bunch of local detectives might go about trying to solve crime. One comment that really sticks in my mind is from a lady who said Dover CID in my books is how she’d like all CIDs to be. Me too (unless I was a victim of crime. Then I wouldn’t want Dover CID anywhere near it.)
I’m hoping A Dog’s Life can be out in a month or so. But don’t hold me to it. Things happen. Price – £1.99, just like #2 & #3 after my try before you buy offer of £0.00 for Rope Enough.