Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The secret rule of writing

Barbara here. I love talking about the writing process, as Rick did in yesterday's post. I also fall into the pantser camp. When all the "how-to" books lectured against it and most of the audiences I talked to were aghast, I began to think there was something seriously wrong with my writing style. But for me writing a book, like reading one, is an adventure, and I love the excitement of the unknown, the thrill of discovery, and the shock of the unexpected as much as the reader does. I know that many competent writers produce dramatic and unexpected books from carefully crafted outlines, but my creativity does not truly kick in until I am in the "writing zone". Rick points out that many a plot hole, left undetected in the outline, is unmasked in the writing. Besides that, many much more innovative and intriguing plot and character twists only spring to mind when I am totally immersed in the story. That is what is meant, I believe, when writers claim the characters took on a life and direction of their own.

After fifteen years in the writing business, and quite a few books under my belt, I have come to trust my own style. It is messy, frustrating, wasteful, and at times terrifying, but it is what works for me. I have learned that it's not enough to launch down the river with no idea what you might want to say and what excitement you might encounter; I need a place to start, fairly good sketches of the main characters and an idea of what the story might be about.  I've also learned that this all may change midstream as better ideas pop into mind, and so it's best not to waste too much time pre-thinking the story.

Readers of mysteries sometimes imagine that writers carefully craft the story so that all the clues are planted, the red herrings are in place, and the sleuth's path to discovery is neatly laid out. Not in the least. While I'm writing the first draft, all I have is a meandering path towards an unknown climax, packed with suspects, surprise twists, and no idea myself whodunit or how (indeed, if) the whole thing will get solved at all. Only once I arrive at the end do I know what happened and what the story is really about. It is in the rewrites that the clues get planted, removed, buried deeper, red herrings are drawn through the plot, characters are enriched and made coherent. In the rewrites, the whole story hopefully becomes a seamless arc.

This leads me to my one secret rule of writing. Ever since I was a child, I have never met a rule I didn't want to break, so it makes sense I would object to the "how-to" books which dictate all the dos and don'ts of successful writing. This doesn't mean I haven't read them, or that aspiring writers shouldn't read them. But I believe every writer has to find the style that works for them and feel confidant enough to follow it. They have to know the kind of person they are and the kind of story they want to tell. Every writing technique has a specific effect, and by knowing the effect, the writer can choose the techniques that create the effect they want. An example of this is choosing Point of view. First is engaging, informal and intimate. Multiple is more distancing but allows for layering, colliding storylines, etc.  Elements of setting such as weather, season, anonymous city vs. intimate village vs. desolate moor all create effects on the story you are telling. Not all effects are equally desirable – the effect of having twenty-five POV characters is that the reader feels dizzy and detached from all the characters, for example.

Pantser plotting requires a lot of patience, trust, flexibility and willingness to rewrite and rewrite until the final draft is perfect. In impatient or inexpert hands, it can produce unwieldy, unfocussed stories. But it can also produce innovative, fresh, and thoroughly surprising stories that follow no pre-conceptions and are difficult to predict. I sometimes joke how can readers figure out whodunit before the end when I don't even know!

So anyone care to guess what the one secret rule of writing is? If you can't think of one, perhaps you have.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Direction

If you’ve hung around Type M for enough time, you’ll know that my story plotting style falls into the seat-of-the-pants camp. Doing a plot outline or chapter-by-chapter analysis of what a novel’s plot will be seems far too much like “homework” to me. If a publisher wants one of these beasts I will certainly hop to it, but it’s with much (silent) grumbling on my part.

For me, there is a lot of delight in creating some characters, supplying a scenario, and letting them get down to it. I know that this far more “out of control” writing style would send those more-organized writers racing to the medicine cabinet for their store of valium, but there’s something exhilarating about “sitting back” and watching characters come to life and tell their stories.

The thing with this approach is that it can become very messy. Yes, I do have some touch points in mind for my plot to follow, usually not much more than a beginning scenario, a mid-point where I’ll need to be, and generally an idea of what the climax/solution to the mystery will be. Beyond that, I have shockingly little idea of what may or may not happen.

After ten completed novels – and three aborted projects – I have come up with ways around this chaotic method of writing. Too often, I’ve gone down blind alleys, come up against a brick wall and been forced to sit, sometimes for weeks, wondering where it all went wrong. (This is generally where I go out for long walks with my characters, trying to figure out what they want to do – as opposed to what I need them to do. It’s all a bit surreal.) Eventually, we figure it out, I usually lose a few chapters, and off we go in a new direction towards an end we still can’t see very clearly.

To those of you who say I should try outlining or synopsifyzing (who cares if that’s a real word or not?), I have. Orca likes their proposals laid out this way. I can certainly see the strengths in organizing a story before picking up one’s pen in earnest, but the most recent publication I did for them, The Boom Room, had a very odd thing happen to it at the last moment. I was literally two chapters from the end (I knew it was the penultimate one because my chapter synopsis told me so) when my plot sat up and bit me in the butt. The solution I’d submitted to my editor was all wrong. The bad guy didn’t do it after all. All the pointing I’d done throughout the plot went towards the wrong character. He was innocent! (Well, not really, but he didn’t do the crime that was central to the plot.)

The result was me having to return to the beginning, changing things up throughout the plot to reflect the new ending, then completely reworking the climax of the story, and finish off by adding an additional two chapters to make it all work out correctly. But wait! Wasn’t I supposed to be sticking to the agreed-upon plot synopsis I’d handed in to get the proposal accepted? What would my editor (who also happens to be Orca’s boss) say about this sea change to what he’d purchased?

As it turned out, not a heck of a lot. I didn’t mention what happened, and neither did he. I’m certain he didn’t read my completed ms with the chapter synopsis beside it on his desk, cross-checking one against the other. He just read through my creation, decided he liked what I’d done, and then we worked in the usual way, polishing the prose, expunging errors and typos, and finally sending the result off to the printer.

I guess what I’ve been trying to say here is that “life will find a way” (to quote the mathematician character in Jurassic Park). Writers can plot and plan and try to stick rigidly to their copious notes, but we must be prepared for characters to heave a spanner in the works at any time, completely changing the direction of our carefully planned plots to their own ends.

And that’s pretty cool, isn’t it?
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By the way, today is a two-blog day for me. I also have an interview up on Steven Buechler’s blog. If you can stand more of me, drop by for a read!

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Importance of Shoes

JK Rowling is to be on BBC's Woman's House radio programme this week, talking about shoes in literature.

I'm not very good at shoes, personally, or at least Shoes, with a capital S. Going into a shoe shop, finding one I like the look of, waiting for an interminable period while they seek out the matching one, then finding that they are excruciatingly uncomfortable and having to start again, strikes me as a form of slow torture. And I do know that to be stylish you just have to not care that it hurts, but I grew out of that a good few years ago.

But when I started to think about literary shoes, I was amazed how many examples I could immediately think of, starting with Cinderella's glass slipper.(Though this, I am given to understand, was in the original French fairy tale described as being of 'vair' – fur – which was mistaken in translation for 'verre' – glass – a lot less glamorous.  Somehow a furry slipper suggests a night in with a boxed set rather than a palace ball.)

Dorothy's red shoes, Dick Whittington's thigh-high leather boots, Sex and the City's Manolos and Jimmy Choos, Posy's mother's ballet shoes in the book of the same name – I'm sure you can fill in a lot more.

The shoes that made me think, though, were Hercule Poirot's: patent leather shoes, topped with grey spats, impeccably free of dust, always a bit too tight. Those simple details speak volumes about the man. They are shoes of the city, elegant if out-of-date; the man who wears them is fussy, old-fashioned and vain enough to put up with discomfort.  Economy in description is a great virtue in a writer and Agatha Christie was a master of the art.

One British actress was known to say that when she was trying to work up a new part the first thing she had to do was decide what the character would be wearing on her feet and the rest of it flowed from that. I didn't set out with that principle when I described my two main characters , DI Marjory Fleming and DS Tam MacNee, but Tam's trainers are definitely a part of his casual, man-of-the-people nature, just as Big Marge's neat court shoes, understated and practical, shed light on her character too.

I can think of other examples I've used, too – well-polished brogues, to establish a background of country-style wealth, stilettos with a tight pencil skirt for a cheerful Liverpudlian secretary. I'm going to focus on that more when next I have a new character to create.

There's no doubt that shoes are important to our readers. Kate Atkinson (who definitely does like shoes) tells of giving a talk about her books to a large audience. When the event was opened to questions, an eager hand instantly shot up. Kate, pleased to see someone so clearly inspired by what she'd said, smiled encouragingly. 'I just wanted to know where you got your shoes,' the woman said.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Guest Author -- Mary Reed

Type M is thrilled to welcome Mary Reed to our blogging party this week. Mary and her husband Eric Mayer are the joint authors of the wonderful John the Lord Chamberlain mysteries set in Sixth Century Constantinople at the court of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. The Sixth Century may have been more than a millennium and a half ago, but don't think for a minute that people weren't just as inventive as we are today. Even more so, if I may say. Have you ever created your own automaton?
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Three For A Letter is largely set on the country estate of Zeno, once described by our protagonist John as a man of eclectic credulity. As the novel opens, a special presentation of the story of Jonah and the Whale is under way at the estate to entertain Zeno's honoured guest, Empress Theodora.

The whale is an automaton created by Zeno's Egyptian servant who named himself Hero after, dare we say it, his hero, Heron of Alexandria, also known as Hero, who among other things drew up blueprints for dozens of automatons. His namesake's job is to create similar mechanical marvels.

Automatons appearing in Three For A Letter include a wine dispensing satyr, an archer who will take an important role in a local festival celebrating the harvest, and birds that sing, all as described by Heron in his treatise Pneumatics. However, he did not, so far as we know, provide instructions on how to construct a mechanical whale so we had to invent one ourselves, based on his writings.

And now Hero's mechanical whale makes its appearance:

The curtains parted and although there was no sign of pulleys or any other device, a large, shadowy shape, taller than a man, rolled forward.

The room's remaining light limned its broad, gray back and enormous flukes and gleamed in the great glassy eyes set on either side of its head.

An admiring murmur rose from the audience as the beast's tail,moving slowly from side to side, emerged from the curtains. It was apparent that the leviathan was not being propelled from behind. Indeed, it continued forward on its own, as if truly alive. There were gasps, and John tensed, as the great head moved out over the edge of the stage. However, just as it appeared the whale would swim straight into the diners, it came to an abrupt halt.

There was a hissing noise. The whale spouted.

To the startled exclamations of the audience, a jet of water burst up from the contraption's head and descended in a cloud of droplets that caught the dim light and glittered like stars over the sea. John, sitting near the end of the table, felt mist against his face.

The flutes keened more urgently, underscored by a new sound, a clanking and ratcheting. Slowly and majestically,the whale's mouth opened a crack. Through a fence of huge bronze teeth brilliant light poured out across the banquet table to flash and coruscate amidst gold and silver bowls heaped with delicacies.

And how, you may well ask, did this mechanical leviathan work?

All actions performed by our whale could be created by compressed air, water, or various ropes, pulleys, and counterweights, important components of many of the automatons described by the ancient writer.

Thus, the whale's ability to trundle about unaided came from Heron's description of an altar that functioned in the same fashion.

Zeno's servant Hero explains the method thus:

"It's done by winding two ropes, one in each direction, around the back axle of the whale's base. Now, as you see, inside the creature are two compartments, each half filled with sand." Showing John the mechanism as he described it, he went on "Each compartment contains a weight to which one of the ropes is tied, resting on the sand. When the bottom of the first compartment is opened, the sand flows out and the weight resting on it descends as it empties, pulling its rope down with it. That in turn moves the axle to which the rope is tied. Thus the whale rolls forward. Later, when the other compartment begins to empty, the process is repeated and the whale rolls backward. It's the sort of device has
been used in the theatre for hundreds of years," he concluded.

We've mentioned before we cast our nets wide when researching this series, =and the method by which the lamps in its mouth self-kindled is explained by a paragraph in Hippolytus' Refutation of All Heresies.

Hippolytus discloses wood spontaneously bursting into flame on an altar is because the altar contains freshly-burned lime instead of ashes. When the lime is wetted by libations poured by the priest, the result is a chemical reaction with enough heat to set fire to combustible materials.

In the case of our whale, when set in motion, a particular rope hidden in its body pulls up a bar operating lids on a set of tubes filled with water, whose contents fall onto minute amounts of burnt lime sprinkled in deep grooves around the lips of the lamps, and the resulting heat causes the lamp oil to catch fire.

Of course, we could have wound up with an exploding whale but Hero was very careful in his calculations as to quantities and no doubt experimented numerous times to ensure this did not happen.

As for the spouting effect, this was accomplished, as Hero explains,with the aid of a sealed vessel semi-filled with water, forced out by compressed air. This sequence we imagined would be set in motion by a specific rope in the afore-mentioned internal system of pulleys and counterweights, which also causes the whale tail to move and its jaws to gape.

Since we did not actually build a prototype of the whale it was all theoretical but we felt, given many of Heron's much more complicated mechanisms, it could be carried out by engineers and metal workers without violating the laws of the universe. We could at least have contributed the tongue, the simplest part of the whale's construction, since it's merely made of stuffed red linen.

As events unfold, a sacred herd of fortune-telling goats living on a nearby island become involved. They are not automatons, so we did not have to create a whole herd of mechanical beasts, but at the same time they are not quite what they seem...

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The husband and wife team of Mary Reed and Eric Mayer published several short John the Lord Chamberlain detections in mystery anthologies and in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine prior to 1999's first full length novel, One For Sorrow. The American Library Association's Booklist Magazine named the Lord Chamberlain novels as one of its four Best Little Known Series. Ten For Dying, tenth in the series, appeared in March 2014 from Poisoned Pen Press. Head of Zeus is now publishing the series in the UK and Europe. More info about their writing at http://home.earthlink.net/~maywrite and
https://www.amazon.com/author/reedmayer

Connecting the Dots

The intrepid Lottie Albright delves into old murders which causes new murders. It's not really a cold case series, as it focuses on the present day murder. Thus it technically morphs into a suspense. Will my historian/undersheriff figure out who did it back then in time to prevent becoming the victim  on the next page?

In some ways, a straight cold case would be easier to present because the Lottie Albright series is told in present day first person. I can't use flashbacks and have to depend on the back story emerging through historical investigation techniques.

My most dependable tool has always been microfilmed newspapers. The Kansas State Historical Society was founded in 1875. They have one of the world's most comprehensive collection of newspapers. All the papers are on microfilm and many are on-line through Chronicling America http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/newspapers/#Kansas. Instructions for obtaining microfilmed Kansas papers can be found at http://www.kshs.org/p/newspapers-in-kansas/11528.

Since Lottie doesn't have access to the villain's mind the plot depends on her ability to connect the dots. Nothing is more valuable in both academic investigation and mystery plotting than knowing something is just not quite right. In other words, reading between the lines. Because usually newspaper items are objective.

Here's an example of what I mean by not quite right. An announcement in the 1950s local news item: "Lonnie Balfour and family will be moving to the Balfour homestead later this month. He will take over the extensive farming operation of his late father." Lottie thinks that's funny. Lonnie was a CPA and the second son. The oldest son, Jeff, was the obvious heir. He was a farmer. Was there tension over this? This leads her to the recorded deed and even more newspapers and death certificates. Aha! Lonnie died in a mysterious accident. His descendants are alive today. And so it goes. Diaries, letters, voting records, notes from organizations, and yearbooks have their own testimony.

Was one child consistently on the honor role and in every activity under the sun? And another in the same family barely mentioned in the high school newspaper or not a participate in any groups according to the yearbook? Why? With persistence, it easy to find this out.

It's easy to really keep the plot hopping through the protagonist's questions as long as the writer resists the temptation to inject a massive dose of history and cultural details. For instance, old newspapers show group pictures of students at events. The debate team is especially well-groomed, except for one member. Why was there no one looking out for this kid? Had his parents ever come to one of his debates?

Being able to enter the mind of the first person protagonist is quite a lot of fun, because one can make this amazing sleuth really smart, not at all like the bumbling novelist who hasn't got a clue.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Longest Week

It’s that time again.

The proof pages for Bitter Crossing (August 2014) have arrived from my editor at Midnight Ink. This is the stage I least enjoy, the stage when the author reads his or her novel one final time, top to bottom. The proverbial speak-now-or-forever-hold-your peace moment. Or, if you grind over every syllable, like I do, a daunting 12-hour period.

Some authors enjoy this stage. They sit down with a glass of wine and re-read their words, reminiscing about how hard they worked to get things just right. Not me. I’m thinking I could make this better. Always.

“Note that this is the last opportunity you will have to submit changes for the book,” writes my wonderful editor, Nicole Nugent, “but that we are past the ‘rewrite’ stage; only corrections that are necessary should be made to the text at this time.”

But…but…

What does she mean by “necessary”? It’s necessary to always make the book better, right?
Just one more brush stroke? Please?

I’m the author who tinkers with a sentence for 20 minutes, the guy from whom the publisher has to pry the “finished” book from. After all, nothing’s ever “finished.” I mean, Fitzgerald was still tinkering with The Great Gatsby during the proof stage. And if his prose still needed work, mine sure as hell does.

I wonder if F. Scott got stomach aches reading his final proof, too. I hope he didn’t. I hope he saw his genius.

Ironically, near the bottom of Nicole’s letter she urges me to enjoy “your first copy of the book!”

If she only knew….

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The dangers of handing out (or accepting) writing advice

The dreaded “track changes”…
This past week, I was asked to be a manuscript evaluator once again for Bloody Words here in Toronto. I again declined. Mostly, it’s because I don’t have the time. I’m up to my eyeballs with far too many things to do. In fact, the harder I work, the farther behind I seem to be getting. I am not about to take on evaluating someone’s writing if I’m not going to give my evaluation the care and consideration the project would deserve.

But there’s also another reason: writing is so subjective, I don’t want to say things that are totally wrong or counterproductive to a budding author’s progress towards realizing their goals. Who’s to say that I’m right? Someone who doesn’t know any better, that’s who. “Hey, he’s written ten novels. He must know what he’s doing.” The truth is, I do know what I’m doing (more or less) – but only for me.

What I find really appalling is writers who don’t have enough skill or “mileage” under their belts, setting themselves up as experts because they’ve sold a short story or two, and then inflicting themselves on the defenseless as writing experts. If I were ever asked to teach creative writing, I would run away screaming. Being an effective teacher is a very particular (and rare) skill. I do know of what I speak because I taught music for nearly 25 years, and that’s something that’s a lot less subjective than teaching writing. I saw a ton of bad teaching – a lot of it my own. Would I want to be responsible for giving someone the exact wrong advice because I couldn’t see something or didn’t understand it properly?

You’re getting this from someone who assigned a promising student the drums many years ago. Scott Harrison has gone on to become a very accomplished and successful musician – on trumpet. We laugh about it whenever I see him, but inwardly I’m appalled by what I did. You see, I almost assigned him trumpet, but I needed someone with innate timing to be the percussionist in my beginning band, and Scott filled the bill. I gave him the wrong instrument for the wrong (and admittedly self-serving) reason. Thank the stars he got it right on his own.

It all boils down to this for me: who am I to be telling impressionable writers what is right and what is wrong?

In defense of my position, I hold up the multitude of tales about writers who had their work rejected a humiliating number of times by agents and editors – the “experts” – only to eventually find outrageous success when their work is finally accepted by someone who’s willing to take a chance. Those stories are true. What did those experts miss – and why?

The other thing is taking part in critiquing groups with people who know about as much as you do. I’ve seen good writers become paralyzed because of conflicting advice, or taking all the advice, their writing turns into beige pap because there is no personality left. It only makes sense to me to take advice from people who know more than I do. Just because a certain passage doesn’t work for a certain person doesn’t mean it’s wrong, for instance. Do you honestly expect everyone to love everything you write? That’s nuts. Even Shakespeare has his detractors.

Elmore Leonard said one should never use adverbs. I believe Mark Twain said never use adjectives. You cannot say never in writing, and I’m always skeptical of those who espouse hard and fast statements like those in any art form. To my mind, great writing lies in the grayness, and in breaking the rules effectively. Good art can seldom come out of black and white rules. What one should be is aware of all the “rules” and then to forge one’s own path.

I will close, though, and actually give the two pieces of advice that I feel are worth sharing:

  • if one person says something critical about your writing, they may be correct. But if several people say the same thing about your writing, they’re most certainly correct. Think about the former. Listen to the latter;
  • the only true path to success as a writer, is to never be anything but truthful with yourself. To have any hope of success, you must be able to step back and evaluate your writing truthfully and honestly.

And here’s some incredibly astute advice from Neil Gaiman: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

The best experience I had with an editor was at the hands of Pat Kennedy, of whose skills I think a great deal. She flagged various things in my edited ms as deserving of the chop. A few of them I thought were wrong-headed. She smiled, leaned back in her chair and said, “Okay. Defend yourself.” I started off, and a few minutes on, the light invariably went on in my head, and I would realize she was correct. I only stuck to my guns on one point, and guess what? Time has proven that she was right about that one, too.

When you find a really great editor, you’ll know it. Hang on to them for dear life.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Guest post - Stephen Booth

Aline here. I'm delighted to welcome Stephen Booth to Type M.  He's a highly successful British writer with a string of awards and commendations, notably as the winner of the CWA's Dagger in the Library and the Barry Award for the Best British Crime Writer of the Year; he's been a finalist in the Gold Dagger too. His books have been published in fifteen languages and recently his back list novel, Black Dog – which he talks about here – has been taking America by storm since it was published by HarperCollins ebook imprint, Witness Impulse (my publisher too!)

Here in Britain we're hoping to see his Peak District series, set in scenic Derbyshire, on our TV screens before long.
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Time is a strange thing for a writer. It can be a friend, or an enemy. And I’m not just talking about those pesky deadlines which make such an interesting sound when they go whooshing past.

When you write a series of mystery novels, you find yourself switching between two parallel timelines – the real one that your families and friends exist in, and a fictional one inhabited by your characters. In a way, we’re all Time Lords living in a Dr Who episode. I’m very aware that my protagonists, detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, are aging much more slowly than I am. When they reach middle-age, I suspect they’ll regenerate into younger versions of themselves.

The relationship with fictional time becomes more difficult to handle as years pass in the real world. We all like to think we improve as writers over time, that each book we produce is better than the last, thanks to our finely honed plotting techniques. But for readers, all those books exist simultaneously. When you’re 14 books into a series, the worst thing a well-meaning reader can say to you is: “I think your first book is the best one.” So I’ve been going downhill ever since, have I? I might as well give up now…

Sometimes, it’s nice if we can allow our first book to settle gently into history and become a ghostly memory. But often the ghost comes back to haunt us.

I wrote my first novel when I was 12 years old. It was a science fiction story about astronauts landing on a planet and meeting aliens (well, it was the 1960s!). For years, I worried that my mother had kept that juvenile sci-fi epic hidden in a drawer and would one day produce it for visitors like an embarrassing childhood photograph. It never happened, for which I’m eternally grateful.

But what if your book has been published, and begins to take on a life of its own? The first novel in my series about two young Derbyshire police detectives Black Dog was written way back in 1998. That might not seem such a long time ago, but it was a different century, a different millennium, a world wholly unlike the one we live in now. The internet was a thing most of us thought was imaginary. People didn’t walk around permanently plugged into their smartphones and MP3 players. We even trusted our bankers.

In the newspaper office I worked in back in the 90s, we had just one cellphone. It was kept locked in the news editor’s desk and was issued only when someone needed to be in touch with the office and might not be able to get to a public phone box. Reporters and photographers fought over the privilege of using this amazing device. It was about the size of a house brick, and you had to be careful not to snap off the antenna.

In the police service, junior officers weren’t issued with cellphones either. As detective constables, Ben Cooper and Diane Fry wouldn’t have had phones at the time, only radios. But I recall thinking that cellphones were becoming more common, so I decided to let my characters have them in that first story. It was a good choice!

I’ve been thinking about this passage of time recently. Thanks to the digital-first imprint Witness Impulse, my early Cooper & Fry novels have been getting a new lease of life in the USA through ebook editions. The series was re-launched from the beginning with Black Dog. Amazingly, it sold so well that it reached number 1 on Barnes & Noble’s Nook bestseller list.

So thousands of new readers have been picking up a book written in the dim and distant 1990s and no doubt expecting it to be a contemporary novel, since it’s only just appeared on their ebook readers. And they find themselves reading about characters who drive around in cars no one has manufactured for years, young police officers who marvel at the ability to communicate via cellphone and never think of googling someone they’re interested in. Ben Cooper actually goes into a bookstore for information, for heaven’s sake. And people shop at Woolworth’s. Woolworth’s!

I can only assume that readers accept the fact they’re reading something historical. They must be taking all the archaisms into account, the way you do when you’re reading a Sherlock Holmes story and enjoying a description of Holmes and Watson travelling in a horse-drawn cab through a Victorian fog so thick that it obscures the gas lamps.

But of course Black Dog was a contemporary novel when I wrote it. There’s nothing I can do now to make those distant versions of Ben and Diane aware of 9/11, or anything that’s happened in the world since 1998. Strangely, this means that Cooper & Fry are still aged in their twenties for many readers in the USA, while here in the UK we’ve reached Book #14, so the same characters are well into their thirties and know all about the banking crisis and the use of social media Those two timelines are rapidly becoming three.

And then there’s the prospect of a TV series. Cooper & Fry are currently in development for a UK crime drama. Once you sign over your rights for the small screen, you enter a whole different universe where your characters begin to evolve in unexpected directions. If that happens, I might just go back into my Tardis and shut the door. My world is much bigger on the inside anyway.