Thursday, November 5, 2020

The Reichenbach Option, by Catriona

Endgame – After considering killing off his hero, Lee Child is handing over the writing of the Jack Reacher Novels to his brother, Andrew. Would you consider killing your protagonists, and how do you envisage ending their careers?

I talk big. Several times on panels I've said one of the good things about standalones is anyone can die (although first person POV is a bit of a problem). But when it comes to the bit my protagonist always survives beyond the last chapter. In fact, I usually end up musing about a sequel. I've never done it yet but I've got premises for follow-up novels to AS SHE LEFT IT and THE CHILD GARDEN. 

Which is not to say no one dies. I have written the fictional deaths of many characters beyond the murder victims, including some high-scoring cards: a dog, a kitten, a child, and an old lady. On another panel one time, when the panellists were considering whether our books were cosies, someone shouted form the audience "It's not a cozy if you nail a kitten to the road". Good point well made, I thought.

                                                                This is the one to avoid.

But about the series . . . That's a tougher question. Dandy Gilver was born in 1886 and I've got her up to 1938 in the first fifteen novels. I've got a peach of an idea for 1972, when she would be eighty-four. In other words, the sort of age when Jane Marple was just hitting her stride. But I might need to start skipping years, because I'd be ninety-three when I was writing it. (It's an enduring mystery to me how Dandy and I started out the same age and, as I write a book a year, she's now so much younger.)

I did have to kill off another dog in this series, mind you. That's why one of my core pieces of advice to any writer starting a series with a dog in it is "make it a puppy". Bunty the Dalmatian started out seven-ish and when she'd got to a cloudy age somewhere around fourteen or fifteen I knew it was time.

I had more serious discussion about Bunty's end-of-life writing than about anything else in the whole series. I couldn't decide whether to pack her off between books or have her plunge into an act of reckless heroism at the climactic scene of a book, and go out in a blaze of glory.

My then editor, Suzie Dooré, made the call, saying "Yeah but no matter how glorious the glory, you turn the page and you've still got a dead dog."

So here's what we did. At the end of one book I had a postscript where Alec and Dandy revisit the scene of the investigation and reminisce that "this was poor old Bunty's last case". Then, at the start of the next book, I had Dandy still grieving and an authorial voice pointing out that unbeknownst to her, right at that moment, Bunty II was three weeks old and currently squirming into her mother's flank in a dog basket in Glasgow.

If only we could say goodbye to real life pets that way, with a bit of sleight of hand and fast-forward. 

                                                                Rachel finds this rather morbid


Ann Mason said...

Killing characters is bearable. Killing a pet is heartrending. Every time I read it, I search my soul for the reasons why this is more painful than anything else. I love the way you handled Bunty’s demise. I lost my Toby in April, just a month before Sgt Pepper was born. I swear it’s a reincarnation. Just like Baby Bunty.

Lyda McPherson said...

The ChildGarden is one of my favorites! Even if someone has to die in order to get a sequel, I'm in.