Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dan Shepherd Books

Live Fire is my twentieth book, which I think is fairly good going! It's also the sixth book in the Dan "Spider" Shepherd series, and my publisher has asked for three more which I'll have to deliver this year, in 2010 and 2011.

Prior to writing the first Spider Shepherd book, Hard Landing, most of my books were stand-alone individual books, though I did have the occassional character reappearing - Mike "Joker" Cramer for instance, who was in The Chinaman (albeit briefly), The Long Shot and The Double Tap. And I know that some readers are keen for me to gop back to writing stand-alone stories. Nick, for instance, posted the following on my blog yesterday:

Love the books, espcially The Tunnel Rats, The Chinaman, The Vets and The Double Tap.I like the Dan Shepherd novels but think that it might be time for a change now? Not sure what others readers think about this?

He has a good point - and the four books he mentions are four of my favourites. I do enjoy writing stand-alone books, but I also enjoy writing the Spider Shepherd books. The problem is, I'm not sure how I can do both. My publisher, Hodder and Stoughton, takes the view that readers prefer a continuing character, and that a continuing character results in increased sales. They believe that readers enjoy following a character from book to book...

Certainly it's easier to write a continuing character because I don't have to reinvent the wheel each time I start. I know what Spider looks like, how he thinks, and I know all the details that go to make up his character. I know what car he drives, what he drinks, where he lives, and how he talks. If I were to write a new novel with new characters, I'd have to create totally new characters and that takes time and effort. And there's a formula for that Spider books that means I start knowing what the structure is going to be - for instance, there have to be scenes with his boss, Charlotte Button, with his son Liam and with his psychiatrist. He also generally interacts with other continuing characters, such as Jimmy "Razor" Sharpe and Major Allan Gannon.

The problem is, I guess, that a series can be predictable. But here's the rub - there are some readers who prefer a book to be predictable. That's not to say they want to read the same book over and over again, but there is something comforting about reading a book that follows a formula that you are familiar with. Dick Francis made a career from writing very similar books, and Robert Ludlum's thrillers do seem to follow a set pattern! And it certainly paid dividends for JK Rowling!

I'm still not sure what to do. With twenty books in print, I guess I'm about halfway through my writing career. I wouldn't like to think that all my future books will be Spider Shepherd stories, but I have to accept that Hodder and Stoughton wants me to continue writing them for the forseeable future. They have spent a lot of time and money establishing my name as a brand, so they do deserve a say in what sort of books I write.

One possibility is to change the structure of the books, perhaps by changing Spider. It has been suggested to me a couple of times that Liam should die tragically, pushing Spider into taking revenge and turning him into a much harder character. The problem with that is that once I've done it, there's no going back. It's definitely something that I'd have to discuss with Hodder and Stoughton before doing it!

There is another possibility. Hodder and Stoughton are keen for me to start writing two books a year, ie to work twice as hard! At the moment they would like another continuing series, with either an American hero or an American setting. But I might be able to write stand-alone books instead, ie two write one original story and one Spider Shepherd book every year. But that would be a lot of work, and I'm not sure if I'm up to it. But I guess the only way to find out is to give it a go and see how it works out. I shall keep you posted!

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love the spider shepherd books u r the best author out there keep up the good work and please keep bringing out the spider shepherd books!!

Anonymous said...

I agree with your publisher the sheperd series is some of the best stuff out there and it'd be nice to get two a year. I'm half way through live fire and one criticism I do have is that there are some typos in there and the odd continuity error, which is something I have not encountred in your work previously.

Wickerman said...

I am about halfway through Live Fire - great book so far.

I loved the secure email that was used (no spoliers!) - I had though of this a while back (2 or 3 months), funnily enough while I was reading an earlier Stephen Leather book. It seems a very neat way of having secure one to one communications.

Keep up the good work (and don't kill of Shepard like you did with Cramer!).

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen,

I wrote, briefly, about a month ago (Thank you for publishing by the way) regarding the Dan Shepard novels and how I thought your best books had been your stand alone novels and that it was maybe time to go back to them as in my opinion the Spider series had peaked (Hot Blood). It was interesting to read, however, that the two responses who were clearly in favour of continuation of the Spider novels as well.

I'm currently travelling around the world and working my way through your books in a fairly random order - I started with the Tunnel Rats and The Double Tap in 2005 and have now just read Hungry Ghost with Only Live Fire and The Stretch left to read!

The reason why i'm writing, however, is that A though occured to me and you touched on this with your amalgamation (Spelling not my strong point) of a chapter from the Tunnel Rats into one of the Dan Sheperd novels (Cold Kill or soft target I think.) It involved Nick Wright and a scene from the tunnel rats which appeared in the Shepard book - It's from the start of the Tunnel Rats where they're chasing a gang through the London underground and you worked this into the Shepard book so that it ended up as Nick Wright briefing Shepard as to how the operation will go and I liked the way this so easily gelled.

This type of cross-book/character scenario brings up a heck of a lot of possibilities/mergers such as perhaps a book with a Dan Shepard and Mike Cramer (A universally firm-favourite character) interaction in Spiders' SAS days (timeframe should be easily workable I think?) for example that I think your readers would love to see, and from that type of basis there are so many possibilities with/from your books and character.

It would require less work on your part with already established characters/stories whilst still maintaining the Spider series favoured by the publisher. It would also perhaps give you the chance to resurrect some of your the plots/scenarios that you had not managed to work into your books (Cutting room floor)

You're obviously probably way ahead of me in this but I thought it would be worth mentioning and to see what you and other readers think?

Many Thanks

Nick Heys
(nickheys1@yahoo.co.uk)

Stephen Leather said...

I love the idea of a story set in the past where Spider Shepherd meets Joker Cramer.... let me give that some thought. There is a time difference that might be a problem... Joker was in the SAS almost twenty years ago, obviously before Shepherd had joined. But it might work.

I do like using charcacters from previous books, and it was great fun slipping Nick Wright from The Tunnel Rats into Soft Target. I might wel use Nick Wright again in another book, he's one of my favourite characters.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Stephen, glad you like the idea! Maybe Joker could've been training/mentoring at the regiment or something whilst Shepherd was
training there?

On the Subject of Cramer - I suppose another option might be to maybe expand on the mission where Joker was captured and ultimately tortured by Mary Hennessey?


Yeah, Nick Wright was a good, solid and likable character in a really great book (The Tunnel Rats is the first book I recommned to my friends/family and I really hope they turn it into a movie one day) and it'd be great to see him again in another book, possibly along with the not so likable, but still fun, Tommy Reid.

Nick

Anonymous said...

Stephen
The Dan Shepherd books are great, I read a lot because my job involves long periods of doing nowt followed by brief interludes of excitment and chaos. I was introduce to you by my father in law who lent me long shot and then I found a copy of Hot blood and destroyed it in 24 hours! Since then I've done all the Spider books and as I write I have just closed the cover on live fire...I could do with finding out who's going to stop Bradshaw...I'm supposed to be going on the london eye next saturday!!
Live fire was an awesome book and I thought the Moore brothers were great - ordinary decent criminals, but (for what it's worth) I enjoyed Dead Men more and even though it's been a couple of weeks since I finished it, I still find myself haunted by a vision in my head of Elaine Carter talking on a mobile phone telling 'Jamie' she loved him and him knowing she was never going on see him again. Brilliant writing.
Keep it up mate, can't wait for the next one
Regards
Charlie

Anonymous said...

I was given "hard landing" by my father in law last year. It sat on my bookshelf (unread) until early november. I eventually decided to pick it up and give it a go. I was hooked. I finished it within two days and the rest of the Dan Shepherd books within three weeks. I have read some of your earlier works, but I love the continuity of the Shepherd books. it really gives the feeling that you know the characters. Also I really enjoy the different settings and scenarios faced in each book. Anyway, keep up the good work, i'm sure I will be a lifetime fan and i can't wait for the next installment.

Jon
Prestwich, Manchester

Jon Crow said...

I'd like to see Spider having less of a conscience and be a bit more womanising (more like Daniel Craig and less like Pierce Bronson!)!

I love your Dan Shepherd books though (only read 2 or 3) and I'm so glad to hear there are a few others out there as well as more in the pipeline!

My only criticism (..and I may have missed something?) is that Spider managed to infiltrate the Moore’s in 'Live Fire', win their trust and join their gang...and join them on a job in less than two weeks (he was back in the office with Charlotte Button again less than two weeks after jetting out to Thailand to infiltrate the gang - should have been 2 months?)?

Great books though - thoroughly enjoy them!

Stephen Leather said...

Not sure about the womanising, Jon, but Spider has less of a conscience in the next book, Rough Justice!

Will have a look at the timing in Live Fire!

Best wishes.

Rich said...

The spider shepherd books are the best i have ever read!! When is rough justice out? I cant wait to read it!! Keep up the good work stephen you are a gifted author!!

Anonymous said...

there is no question in my mind that spider should go on and on ! .... hell i want the movies :)(can you make that happen LOL), please keep writing them i cant stop reading them once i start.

thanks for the books

dave

aveduk@aol.com

Donnalme said...

I have read all the Dan "spider" Shepherd books so far and am a huge fan. Now I am currently reading Nightfall which is the first time I have ventured into the world of Jack Nightingale. Keep up the fantastic writing. I have to say Stephen, You haven't written a bad book yet. Pls keep writing

Anonymous said...

Just to say I love all your novels, especially the spider Shepherd ones!! I have just read nightfall aswell and coulnt put it down. It was your books that got me into reading at the age of 25, so thanks for that. It turns out I just hadn't found the right kind of book up to that.. So please keep writing :) Donna

Stephen Leather said...

Thanks Rich, Dave, Donnalme and Donna! Glad you're enjoying my work and thanks for posting! I'm hard at work on the new Spider Shepherd book!

Lisa said...

I love the spider shepherd books, i just wish i knew which order to read them in, i'm on number 4 at the moment, can't wait to pick the next one up. Please don't kill him off, he's great! Lisa

websnoop said...

I just wanted to say as an avid non fiction reader the thought of reading any fiction since leaving school was never going to happen. Then a pal challenged me to read a book of his choice, and vice versa. Along with the game I did go, Rough Justice was the culprit, hook line and sinker was I had. So off to research this superb story teller and list of material was then collected, Pay Off just finished. And so so looking forward to the next offering, ever so glad to see such a long list....

thank you.

Stephen Leather said...

Hi Websnoop - I'd be fascinated to know what book you suggested that he read! I think Rough Justice is one of my best.

Hey Lisa - if you go to my website - www.stephenleather.com - the books are listed in order on the Author Page and on the Books Page!

Rich M said...

Hi Stephen, I am a massive fan of yours and have all your Spider Shepherd books! I have just also read the first Jack Nightingale book which was awesome! Can you please tell me when the next Spider Shepherd book after Rough Justice will be hitting the bookshelves? Regards

Stephen Leather said...

Hi Rich. Fair Game is out on July 21....

Charlie Grey said...

Mr. Stephen Leather:

I have to say that your book has given us me and my fellow peace in difficult times on a KOP in Afghanistan. I hope the book will continue to translate into Spanish and I am anxious to read the next book. Thank you very much for the good times!

pawan said...

hi Stephen, I am from India. I am a big fan of your novels. so far, i read THE LONG SHOT and TANGO ONE. But when i drop online order, there is none Indian seller. Any idea to buy your books in India? Anyway, i will manage to find a one for my need. Wish you all the best,

Pawan

Jr. Williams said...

How do I get my book published?
Stephen Leather books