“When a torched body is found in a country lane, DI Bliss and Chandler are called in to investigate.
The detectives are drawn towards recent missing person reports and believe their victim will prove to be one of them. Bliss thinks he knows which, and fears the outcome if he is proven right.
Soon the body is identified, and Bliss and Chandler discover evidence suggesting this murder might be a terrorist attack.
Meanwhile, someone from Bliss’s past needs his help, and soon he is juggling his personal life with the demanding case. To make matters more complicated, MI5 and the Counter-Terrorist Unit are called in to help solve the case. But are they on the right track?
Bliss and Chandler soon find themselves in a race against time, and this might just be their most challenging case yet…”
It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the blog today and to the return of #damppebblestakeover, whoop! Now if you’re fairly new (sort of new…ish) to my blog then you won’t know what in the foggiest I’m talking about, so let me explain.
#damppebblestakeover is a series I first ran back in 2016 where I invited authors (of any genre) to make use of my blog for a little bit of free promotion. After all, it’s all about the #booklove, right? It was such a fantastic success and I had meant to resuscitate it last Summer but, y’know, plans don’t always go to plan! If you fancy catching up on the posts from 2016 then click HERE. But now it’s back (from outer space…. ;)) and better than ever. My plan is to not restrict it to the Summer months but continue for the long haul and I’m only inviting the criminal kind to post this time around (I’m a crime blogger, I LOVE crime fiction).
Starting us off on the right foot is Bloodhound Books author, Tony J Forder. You will be able to find out a little more about Tony later on along with information about his books and links to purchase should you wish. So without further ado, I’ll hand over to Tony…
SERIES VERSUS STANDALONE
When I wrote Bad to the Bone it was not with the intention of writing a series. It actually came about as a result of a failed novel, called Burnout. The manuscript featured a lead character by the name of DI Jimmy Bliss, who worked closely with his more than able DC, Penny Chandler. I completed the book, and it’s fair to say that it had some good features and some scenes I liked, but overall it did nothing for me when I read it back. Neither did I think that I could improve it with months of editing or rewrites. In some ways I think I treated the process as part of a learning curve. However, by then the idea for a new story had come to me, and with it being another crime novel set in Peterborough where I live, it seemed to fit the same two main characters perfectly.
Even when it was done and I was pleased with the result, I never imagined writing a follow-up. It was only when Bloodhound Books signed me up for a two book deal, which was for Bad to the Bone and an as yet unwritten sequel, that I had to start thinking hard about how I might accomplish that. The first choice I had to make was whether to suggest to Bloodhound that I rewrite the book and bring it up to date (Bad to the Bone is set in 2005). If I didn’t, then I would have issues with the sequel. On the other hand, there was a lot of dating in the book, and I was a bit fearful that I might overlook something obvious during the edit process. Equally, now that I knew a second book would have to be written, I had to decide whether or not to make changes to Bad the Bone so that certain aspects of the story were not tied up or expanded upon in that first book. Believe me, a lot of hard thinking went into those months following the signing of my first publishing contract.
Ultimately, I decided to keep Bad to the Bone rooted in 2005, but set its sequel in the year I was writing it – 2017. Explaining away the 12 year gap was not the only issue I had to contend with, however. Because even people in their forties and fifties develop as time passes, so I had to reach inside the characters and get a feel for how a dozen years might have impacted on them. After finding solutions for everything, I then had to confront something entirely new: I now had to anticipate a third book in the series, and perhaps more. The decisions this time, then, were what to include and what to leave for the next one, also which snippets I might feed into the second book in preparation for a third.
So there are clearly some difficulties in writing a series that you simply don’t get with stand-alone books. Something you have to keep in mind if you intend continuing with a series is finding ways to keep things fresh. Currently, the way I address that problem is to ensure the storylines are very different each time. Of course, relationships will be carried over from book to book, and no matter what the case, certain procedures will inevitably have to be repeated, such as briefings and the decision-making processes that occur in any murder investigation. You also have to find a way to refer to previous cases, so as to provide a baseline for new readers. At its core, the Bliss series is a police procedural, but the intention is to add layers of plot complexity, and hopefully more than the odd thrill. I regard them as procedurals with an edge. Finding new ways to provide that edge is part of the attraction.
The other side of the coin is that you get to develop your characters and their chemistry with colleagues, friends and family. You have time to delve into their back stories, the canvas already sketched out for you by the time you come to write the next book in the series. Of course, you do have to keep a wary eye out for continuity, and that can be time-consuming. I do have a character profile that I can dip into, but you have to take care. However, the character is there for you and fully-formed when you come to write their next adventure, and that does make life a little easier, as you are not having to create them from scratch.
In addition to my DI Bliss series, I have two stand-alone novels. At least, that’s how they were written. Degrees of Darkness is a dark, psychological chiller featuring a serial-killer. It predates Bad to the Bone in terms of when I wrote its original version, and it was the first novel I completed that I was happy with. It was only ever going to be a one-off, and although many readers have said they would like to read more books featuring the main character – and I have subsequently considered developing a suitable storyline – I suspect Degrees will remain a stand-alone.
Scream Blue Murder is a different proposition. For two-thirds of the book it was written as a one-off, but as I approached that final third I realised how much I had enjoyed writing the main characters, and how much I had appreciated the freedom the very different style of writing gave me. I realised that I was considering carrying on with these adventures, and knew immediately where I would set the next one, and the idea for the sequel came shortly afterwards. Since the release of Scream Blue Murder I have dipped in and out of its follow-up, and I am thrilled to say that my publishers recently accepted the completed manuscript and a contract signed. Cold Winter Sun will be released in November 2018.
The different mind-set when writing a stand-alone book is an interesting one. For a start, you have to tie up absolutely every loose end. You also have to include as much back story as possible to make your characters three-dimensional and interesting, whilst keeping the pace of the story flowing, the interest of the reader focussed. It’s a different approach entirely, and a challenge in its own right. I wouldn’t say it’s preferable to writing a series, but it does stretch you as an author, and I certainly want to write more.
With a stand-alone book you tell an entire story using around 100,000 words. The main character arc has to be complete, and the wrap-up must deal with every plot strand you have thrown out there. On the other hand, I think of the crime series as an on-going story, where you focus on solving each case within those same 100,000 words, yet each book rolls into the next, allowing you to reveal more about your characters with each subsequent release. It’s like a gradual drip-feed of information as opposed to a mass transfusion. It provides the author with a great deal more freedom, but in exchange for that you have to also look both backwards and forwards to ensure the elongated arc is consistent.
Now that I actually have a series on the go, writing outside of it provides a release of sorts. There are no expectations beyond that book. You tell your story and you get the hell out of there, hoping you have successfully wrapped it all up in a pretty bow and created a package your readers will be happy with. But it must also please you, the author, because once it is out there it’s out there for a long time and you will be judged by it. For me, the best thing about writing a new stand-alone book is creating my characters, getting inside their skins and trying to develop them along with the storyline. In the case of Scream Blue Murder, those characters wormed their way inside my head so much that I simply found it impossible to resist the allure of writing them a brand new adventure. Perhaps that is because I am driven to characters more than storyline. When I read, a brilliant character can bring me through an unexceptional story, but it doesn’t work the other way around. Nothing pleases me more than when people make positive comments about my characters, and the real trick is getting the balance between character and story just right.
The next book after Bliss #4 will definitely be another stand-alone, as the story outline is sketched out and the first few scenes already written. It’s another crime thriller, but a very different one for me. I’m certainly going to have to up my game to take on this new main character, that’s for sure. I’m very much looking forward to taking up the challenge once again.
As for whether there are more DI Bliss books to come after the one I am currently writing, well, given the situations he confronts throughout the entire story, the answer really depends on whether he and/or his career survives this latest outing. I know the answers, of course, but I think I will keep them to myself for a little while longer.
Thanks so much, Tony. Such an interesting piece, and it’s always good to see the workings of a crime writer’s mind. I think us crime fiction fans are so used to books being part of a series that we tend to expect a sequel (or is that just me…..? lol). What do you think, dear reader? What do you prefer? Series or standalone? Let me know in the comments.
If Fear Wins by Tony J Forder was published in the UK by Bloodhound Books on 29th May 2018 and is available in paperback and eBook formats (please note, some of the following links are affiliate links): | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Waterstones | BookDepository | Goodreads |
If you’re a published crime writer and you would like to feature on #damppebblestakeover then drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tony J Forder is the author of the critically acclaimed crime thriller series featuring detectives Jimmy Bliss and Penny Chandler. The first three books, Bad to the Bone, The Scent of Guilt, and If Fear Wins will be joined by a fouth in the series in 2019.
Tony’s dark, psychological crime thriller, Degrees of Darkness, featuring ex-detective Frank Rogers, was also published by Bloodhound Books. This is a stand-alone novel. Another book that was written as a stand-alone was Scream Blue Murder. This was published in November 2017, and received praise from many, including fellow authors Mason Cross, Matt Hilton and Anita Waller. Tony subsequently wrote a sequel, and Cold Winter Sun will be published in November 2018.
Tony lives with his wife in Peterborough, UK.