Friday 20 July 2018

Second thoughts by Cara Hunter

We’ve all heard about ‘second novel syndrome’. Three words to strike fear into the heart of any writer. As if it wasn’t hard enough to write one book, you’re then faced with having to do it all over again. And if the first book is even modestly successful the stakes are higher still.

I was really lucky with Close to Home. It was a Richard and Judy book club pick and that was just about the best launch-pad for a new series you could possibly dream of. I was also lucky in that I’d pretty much finished the second book before Close to Home was even published, so some of the pressure was off. But when I sat down to begin In The Dark I still faced all the usual challenges of writing a second novel, the first and most significant being to come up with a halfway decent idea.

And even if you have an idea, there are technical challenges with writing the second novel in a series, which aren’t the same as a second book as a standalone. Some things are easier, of course, as some key elements are in place before you start.

The setting, for example. In my case, the ‘much murdered’ city of Oxford, familiar to crime fans across the world thanks to the adaptations of Morse and Lewis and Endeavour (though I’ve made the conscious decision to locate the DI Fawley books in parts of the city that will be less familiar to TV viewers).  Like Close to Home, In The Dark was inspired in large part by North Oxford. It’s a perfectly preserved Victorian suburb, with tree-lined roads and huge Victorian mansions rising three or four storeys high. It’s a beautiful and respectable place so it’s all the more unthinkable as the setting for the terrible crime that Fawley finds there.

The central police team is also the same as in Close to Home. Not just Adam Fawley himself, but the team around him. The flashy DS Gareth Quinn who’s his own worst enemy; the sold and dependable DC Chris Gislingham; DC Verity Everett, who people underestimate at their peril; the just-a-bit-geeky DC Andrew Baxter, and PC Erica Somer, freshly escaped from a pretty disastrous relationship with Quinn she wishes she’d never started.

The great pleasure of any sequel is to re-engage with characters who intrigue you, and I have to confess I really love this team. The dynamics between them are really interesting to write, and their relationships are starting to evolve in fascinating ways. And there’s truth in that old cliché that your characters take on a life of their own – I know it sounds counter-intuitive to say that about people who exist only in your own head, but it really does happen. They start to do things you hadn’t planned, and as you dig through the layers you find things in their pasts that you hadn’t expected. 

Nowhere is that truer than with the character of Adam Fawley himself. I feel closest to him, of course, not just because he ‘carries’ the series, but because his sections are written in the first person, so I have to think myself into his head when I write for him. When I wrote Close to Home I had no idea it would turn into a series – I thought I’d be lucky enough if someone simply wanted to publish it. So I didn’t have a huge spreadsheet setting out how his character would be revealed over time, or how his personal life would develop. I’m starting to create one now, though! I remember hearing how the producers of The Archers have vast files about each of their characters – not just basics like age and height and colour of eyes, but all the things that have happened to them, and when.  Of course, mine is tiny by comparison, but I do know what they mean. Especially as right now I have Close to Home out, In The Dark imminent, No Way Out in final copyediting for publication in January, and I’m writing number four, so it’s easy to forget who did what and in which novel (it has happened!). And with three books written I do now have a clear idea of how Adam’s story is going evolve, and I hope readers who warmed to him in Close to Home will want to see how that plays out – how he faces up to the tragedy in his past, and the impact that is still having, especially on his relationship with his wife.

And I’m absolutely delighted that Penguin have now commissioned a fifth book as well, so that spreadsheet of mine looks likely to be growing for a while yet….

In The Dark by Cara Hunter ( Published by Penguin Books) Out now.

A woman and child are found locked in a basement room, barely alive.  No one knows who they are - the woman can't speak, and there are no missing persons reports that match their profile. The elderly man who owns the house claims he has never seen them before.  The inhabitants of the quiet Oxford street are in shock. How could this happen right under their noses? But DI Adam Fawley knows that nothing is impossible.  And that no one is as innocent as they seem . . .

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