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!