Wednesday, October 24, 2012


And when it's time to ring them down.

When I got a publication deal for the first book in a detective series - or rather when I got a publication deal for a detective novel and was asked whether it was a series (see below) - my agent told me loud and clear that I had to write at least six. 

(Below.  When an interested publisher asks you if you see it becoming a series, it's the crimewriter equivalent of a Hollywood casting director asking if you can ride horses.  You say yes without missing a beat and work out how later.)

Why six?  Because, my agent told me, that's how many episodes there are in a serving of BBC Sunday night telly.  (Do US agents tell new American writers to shoot for twenty two?)

It was a bit of a joke to my friends and family, but then fan me flat if, just after No. 6 came out, the BBC didn't go and option it.  I'd mess that neat bit of plotting up with a problem or two if I was in charge.  I'm glad I'm not.

So the first half of my answer to the question of when to retire a series character is not until you've written six (if it's British and/or has any kind of bonnets or shawls about it anyway.)

How about the other end?  How long can you rumble on? 

I wouldn't want to end up like Agatha Christie.  In Dead Man's Folly (1956), thirty six years after she introduced her Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, she introduced the character of Ariadne Oliver, a writer of detective stories, who is pig sick of her Finnish detective, Sven Hjerson and wishes he was dead or at least not Finnish anyway.

I started Dandy Gilver off in 1922 and I'm just editing the 1930 story now.  I've got a great idea for 1936, which looked a hilarious distance off when I started and now seems like it might be just round the corner.  I've got a cracker for 1972 too.  Dandy would be eighty six.  Just a spring chicken compared to Poirot.


Meredith Cole said...

I think Dandy will be a great detective at 86! I say go for it...

Both Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle resorted to killing their detectives to get rid of them (although I doubt that would work these days now that paranormal is so popular!)

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I'm with Meredith. If Dandy is still chewing his own food, he can sleuth!

Being that I'm writing my 8th Odelia Grey novel, I'm beginning to worry about wearing out my character's welcome with readers, but so far, so good. I'm contracted for 12 of them and will start to work towards the finish of the series within the upcoming books. The trick is to keep the readers panting for more until you pull the plug or the publisher yanks it for you.

Alan Orloff said...

Keep on writing. If things start to get stale, you can always have Dandy go on a cross-country trip to Hollywood to meet William Holden, or cruise to Italy to stomp grapes, or move to a large house in the country with her best friends and landlords.

NoraA said...

If you can keep your character fresh enough, and spry enough then keep writing. If your numbers are down, and the publisher is losing interest, then maybe it's time for that fatal accident, or disease that can't be cured.

Reece said...

I hope Dandy is still kicking at 86, Catriona! For that matter, I hope I am, too.

Howard Sherman said...

It's always good to plan ahead. Any writer who seems himself (or herself) in the writing business needs to adopt a strategy for their writing career. That of course should accoungt for movie and TV adaptations

Catriona McPherson said...

I've been a bit out of the loop today - driving my mother (and father and sister) down to Carmel for her birthday. Monterey Bay Aquarium is a great place to contemplate shark-jumping.