Continuing our series, CRAIG SISTERSON, author of Southern Cross Crime and long-time Good Reading crime aficionado, talks with a pair of writers with differing approaches when it comes to page-turning storytelling.
Bestselling Norwegian author Thomas Enger and award-winning British novelist Anna Mazzola both love spinning tales of murder and mystery. But they take different tacks when it comes to revisiting popular protagonists.
When I wrote my debut, Burned, the plan all along was that it was going to be a series. In fact, I made a plan for all the books in my ‘Henning Juul’ series before I started writing. I quickly threw that plan out of the window, because a lot changed as I went along, both with the plots and the characters. I stopped the ‘Henning Juul’ series in 2015 but, who knows, I might bring him back.
I love the fact that with several books you have more room and time to really develop a character. In a series you can let them evolve over time, sometimes ending up surprising, turning into something completely different compared to the original thought or plan. It’s great as well when you have a character that you really enjoy writing. You want to go back to that person, that universe, and explore it further. With Henning Juul it was a huge quest, somehow making all five books fit neatly together, while at the same time trying to develop and keep him interesting. You definitely don’t want your characters to just remain what they were when the readers first met them. That is the big challenge, but also what’s fun and interesting about writing a series.
The thing about stand-alones, like Inborn, is that it requires a lot more work to figure out how that specific universe is going to look. Who are the key characters, and what kind of lives do they live? In a series you return to characters already established within the frameworks of an already familiar universe. I think a lot of writers do that, as it’s easier. The readers also seem to enjoy returning to familiar characters, so it’s a win-win.
I’m going to continue mixing it up. I’m doing the ‘Blix & Ramm’ series with Jørn Lier Horst, we’ve just put the finishing touches to novel number four. Last year I did another stand-alone for the adult readers called The Book of Gallows. The next thing for me is always going to be the story that excites me the most.
Thomas Enger is a Norwegian author and music composer. He also co-writes the bestselling ‘Blix & Ramm’ crime series with Jørn Lier Horst. The latest novel, Unhinged, is published by Orenda Books
I love starting a new book because it means researching a whole new era and escaping to a different world (my books have been set in 1830s London, 1850s Isle of Skye and Paris in 1750). I wish I could bottle that sense of excitement when I begin a new project, so that I can douse myself in it when I’m midway through the first draft and hating the wretched thing. In practical and monetary terms, it would make more sense to write a series, but I love the research the most, and the imagining: what would it have been like to live in this world? What kind of person would it make you?
I want to find out everything about how people would have lived in the relevant era: what they ate, and wore, how they spoke, what they thought, how they interacted with one another, how their manners and morals differed and how they were punished for crimes. I read memoirs, diaries, letters, and biographies to get some sense of what their lives were like. The information I find there helps form the characters and shape the plot. I pin various pictures to my desktop to inspire me as I write.
All my books are mystery novels with dark secrets at their centre. They seem to be becoming increasingly dark and Gothic, though I try to add lighter moments plus a sprinkling of magic. Although not planned, my novels all explore the themes of justice and injustice and how the marginalised (particularly women) can achieve a decent outcome despite the unfairness of the justice systems at the time. In my day job, I’m a solicitor helping survivors of crime, so it’s not surprising that I deal with those issues. Maybe it saves me from paying for therapy.
I assume it’s less time-consuming to write a series as you don’t have to start from scratch each time. I would need a bloody good idea for a series. So far I haven’t had one! Maybe I’ll return to Sale Gale, the protagonist of my debut, The Unseeing. She’s stayed with me. I want to know what happens next.
Anna Mazzola is a human rights and criminal justice solicitor and author of historical Gothic thrillers that explore the impact of crime and injustice. Her latest novel The Clockwork Girl is published by Orion.