The Hermitage is out today. It’s L J Ross’s tenth book in the critically acclaimed DCI Ryan series. I’m very lucky to know Louise on a personal basis and her warm friendly nature, as well as the stories in her books, stay with me long after she has gone. She is a phenomenal success, selling 3 million copies to date. That’s 3 million!
Here’s what The Hermitage is all about:
He thought he was invincible, but he was wrong…
When an old man is found dead inside the ancient hermitage at Warkworth Castle, Northumbria CID are called in to investigate. With no apparent motive, it’s their job to unravel why he was murdered – and this time they’re forced to do it without their star detective…
DCI Ryan is thousands of miles away. He’s tracked a killer across Europe and has sworn not to return until he has his man in custody. Nathan Armstrong is a dangerous psychopath but there’s just one problem – he’s also an international celebrity; a world-famous thriller writer with money and connections.
Ryan is a stranger in a foreign land, but he knows one thing – he’ll never give up.
Murder and mystery are peppered with romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunnit set amidst the spectacular landscapes of Northumberland and Tuscany
Here Louise talks about what it takes to be the writer of a series:
Series have always been popular with readers, especially in certain genres such as crime fiction. When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried to kill off his protagonist Sherlock Holmes in the short story The Final Problem, he was met with public outcry: fans were walking the streets of London with black ribbons on their lapels and he was eventually pressurised to bring him back to life in The Adventure of Empty House.
Readers like to read a series because they know what they’ll be getting: similar themes and often the same characters they’ve enjoyed in previous books. From an author’s perspective, writing a series also has many benefits: there is much more scope for character development and sweeping story arcs in a series compared with a standalone novel.
If done well, a series can also be more commercially successful than an equivalent number of standalone books: if a reader gets “hooked” on book 1, she may well go on to buy the rest of the series. This works especially well if there is a minor “cliffhanger” at the end of each book, although I always make sure that the main plotlines and mysteries are solved within each instalment to avoid upsetting readers too much!
A key challenge in writing a successful series is consistency. This applies on a basic level, ensuring that factual points relating to characters and the world in which the series is set aren’t contradicted in later books – I keep a notebook with a list of the names of all minor characters in my DCI Ryan Mysteries series, along with more detailed notes on the main characters.
Consistency is also important to ensure reader expectations are met in terms of the storyline and genre for each book. From a business perspective, consistency is important for branding and marketing: for example, book covers need to form part of a coherent brand so readers can easily see when the next book in their favourite series has been released. Consistency is also important in terms of production schedules: if books 1-3 of a series are released quickly but book 4 doesn’t come out for another couple of years, readers might move on and forget. I’m still waiting with bated breath for the next installment from George RR Martin but most authors couldn’t get away with keeping their readers waiting for so long!
Keeping it fresh
The flipside is the challenge of keeping things fresh. Some of the benefits of writing a series can also turn into limitations: writing something original whilst fitting within expectations for the series can be very tricky. Writing the next book in a series can be “easier” than starting something totally new (since the characters and the world are already established) but this can also lead to boredom and frustration for a writer who wants to let their creative juices flow. I’ve often been sorely tempted to kill off some of the main characters in my DCI Ryan Mysteries but Ryan is still standing, for now!
The key is probably to avoid reaching the stage where this impulse gets too strong and to identify when you need to take time out to pursue other literary ambitions. Ultimately, there will come a time when every series must come to an end, either owing to lack of interest from the readers or lack of interest from the author. Just don’t let it get to the same stage as Doyle where you end up throwing your hero off a cliff and then need to work out a way to bring him back to life – readers these days probably won’t let you get away with “it was all just a dream” at the start of the next book!