PD Viner, Crime writer: Year One. Serial killings.
In a few days my second novel (Summer of Ghosts, pub August 14th 2014) will be released and I am nervous. Is this going to be my Godfather II or Exorcist II? (If you don’t know them – let me just tell you that Godfather II is arguably the best sequel ever. Exorcist II: the Heretic is not. It is so NOT).
Now a part of my nerves is the fact that the step-up from part-time writer, taking three years to finish a novel while I juggled work, childcare and the procrastination Olympics, to being a full-time writer (nine months writing time for a novel from scratch) is immense. But bigger than that is the question – have I pulled it off? You see Summer of Ghosts is the middle part of a trilogy (okay a trilogy of three novels, four novellas and a short story that may or may not turn into a graphic novel) and I have always thought that the second novel of a series was the tough one. It separates the wheat from the chaff – or at least the Pass the Dutchie one hit wonder (Musical Youth) from the multi-hit makers, with the goal being to have as many number ones as the The Beatles (John being Ian Rankin and Paul is PD James. I will leave you to debate your ideas for George and Ringo). A main character can hold one book. To hold a series – that is much tougher. Many writers work this trick by making each book a different case and eeking out details about their main detective. I haven’t gone down this path though – there is one case, the death of Dani Lancing, that stretches across all three books even though Summer of Ghosts is predominantly about two other crimes; the beautiful skin murders and the abduction and murder of Pia Light.
My first novel dealt with a single act of violence and how that causes a ripple that destroys many other lives around it. As Mark Billingham said, it was not about violence but what violence does to people. Well, with book two I wanted to look more closely at violence and the book is violent in an often distressingly casual way. It deals with characters who trade in violence and one character, Gulliver, who enjoys causing violence and pain. The book looks at violence in war too as some scenes occur in the bushwars and later civil wars of Zimbabwe. Into this world where life is cheap I parachute Tom Bevans (AKA The Sad Man) and the parents of the murdered girl, Patty and Jim Lancing to test their mettle. I also attempt, with Franco – a minor character in the opening novel, but now at the forefront of the narrative, to show a man who most see as black and white – but who is as subtle and nuanced as any man can be. The book is once again about moral ambiguities and moral imperatives and that is like walking a tightrope over Niagara falls. Have I got the balance right?
That has been difficult to judge as the pressure of writing two novellas and a novel in nine months (plus editors comments and copy edits etc) meant that I was working more in isolation than ever before. With my first novel I had been enrolled on a writing course and my fellow classmates and tutor gave me feedback every week. As a professional writer it is just me and a vat of espresso reflecting my dark, dark soul.
So I am nervous about the balance and tone but also for my new readers – have I given you enough overview (or worse, too much)? For my series I have attempted to write for an ensemble cast, and I did not want to start the second novel as if the catastrophic events of the first had not affected them all deeply. But – and here is the tricky part – each book needs to stand alone, and be read without any pre-knowledge of what has gone before. So I have tried to set the scene with events from the first book being revealed in a therapy session. The idea is that if you have read the first one then it will remind the reader what happened and give them a nice thrill of association – but new readers get all they need without feeling like they have missed something (though of course I hope they will go back and want to read The Last Winter of Dani Lancing). Within the crime genre there are so many styles and sub cultures that I wanted, within one series, to look at many different forms of writing. The idea is that the landscape can shift under the feet of the characters and they can be thrown into really different experiences – but if I write true to those protagonists I can make each story different and exciting while remaining true to the series. The novellas also segue in style (and I urge you to check them out, especially as they are FREE to download from all good ebook stockists). The Sad Man is set in 1999 and is the case that makes Tom Bevans career and allows him to set up Operation Ares to investigate multiple victim sex/murder cases. The novella is a serial killer piece with a little Thomas-Harris-like-action. The second novella, The Ugly Man is set in the heatwave of 1976 and involves Patty Lancing on the track of a killer. It is the case that makes her reputation and is a big city journalist trying to crack a case in a close knit rural community. Next year there will be two more novellas – one a supernatural thriller and the other a deliverance-style cat and mouse chase as well as the final novel – a prison break. All feature Tom, Patty, Jim and Dani. So on September 1st I get to follow in the footsteps of the Krays and go to Lewes prison. I am looking forward to it. I am nervous – and I am proud – and I just need to keep writing.