Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The Party's Over by Chris Ould

The process of finishing writing a novel is an oddly protracted sort of affair, a bit like the aftermath of throwing a party. The last guest leaves an hour later than you'd really hoped, but when you finally close the door it's over: the end.

In the same way, after six months or so of partying with the characters in your novel, you finally write the denouement, you think up the curtain line and type The End. You have a book (in this case The Fire Pit) and you've told your story. That's it.

Except it isn't really. Just like the party, you still have the clearing up to do: the glasses to wash (the copy edit); the empty bottles to recycle in the morning (the proofs); and then – a long time later – the credit card bill comes in (publication day) for all that beer and prosecco you bought for festivities you can now barely remember.

Well, that's how it is for me, anyway. I've never had much difficulty in wiping the details of the last book I wrote from my memory and moving on to the next. At editorial meetings I've been known to forget the names of central characters and who did what and why, which can make people suspicious that I didn't actually write the book at all, but maybe hired someone to do the hard work instead. Unfortunately, not so.

I think the memory-wipe thing stems from years spent writing TV scripts, when there was no time to sit back and ruminate on what you'd just written. Instead, as soon as the last draft was complete, you'd be given a new brief and a new delivery schedule to be met.

The same was true in some ways of the Faroe Islands trilogy. For the last three years (longer if you count the research time before I started writing) once one book of the series was finished the next was there, waiting to be tackled.

Of course, given that the central characters – British DI Jan Reyna and Faroese detective Hjalti Hentze – and much of the setting remained the same in the books, moving from The Blood Strand to The Killing Bay, and then to The Fire Pit was more like picking up where I'd just left off. True, the plots and the crimes in each book are different and mostly unrelated, but I'd had all three mapped out from the start so I suppose I never got to the point of memory-wiping because what had happened before was still germane to what was happening on the page now.

But more than three years spent in the company of the same characters is a long time, so it's not unreasonable when people ask if I'll miss them now that the party really is over.

Like most novelists, I suspect, the truthful answer is both yes and no. When a character is familiar enough that you can have fun writing them it's harder to let them leave than the ones who are argumentative and awkward. You may even invite the entertaining ones back again – once you've cleared up, naturally – but the others, not so much.

What I will miss, though – and without reservation – are the Faroe Islands themselves. I went to some pains to represent them as accurately as I could in the books, from the high, brooding mountains to the fog shrouded or sun-saturated fields and beaches, and in the course of my visits there the place got under my skin. In many ways the Faroes became as much a character in the books as the people I created to populate them, but because the islands are overwhelmingly and dramatically real they've stamped a very definite impression on me.

So, although the exact details of murders, deceptions and who did what in the Faroes trilogy will inevitably slip my mind now that I've moved on to a new project, it just so happens that a Danish friend recently invited me to a reunion party in the Faroes next year. A reunion with the islands is something I'd never pass up so I've already said yes and it's in my diary. Not that I'm likely to forget.

The Fire Pit, the final novel in the Faroes series is published this week. Together with The Blood Strand (2016) and The Killing Bay (2017) it is published by Titan Books. Chris Ould is on Twitter @WriterChrisOuld

The Fire Pit by Chris Ould published by Titan Books
In the wake of a dying man’s apparent suicide, the skeleton of a young woman is discovered on a windswept hillside. Detective Hjalti Hentze suspects that it is the body of a Norwegian woman reported missing forty years earlier, while a commune occupied the land, and whose death may be linked to the abduction and rape of a local Faroese girl.  Meanwhile British DI Jan Reyna is pursuing his investigation into his mother’s suicide. But as he learns more about her final days, links between the two cases start to appear: a conspiracy of murder and abuse spanning four decades. And as Hentze puts the same pieces together, he realises that Reyna is willing to go further than ever before to learn the truth…

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