Writing The Sequel

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Thanks to several kind reviews I have been asked if I will write sequels for my first two books,  An Agent’s Demise and To the Survivors.  My third book The Persuasive Man doesn’t support a sequel for fairly obvious reasons.  If you check out my forthcoming books you will know that I am writing  a sequel to An Agent’s Demise called An Agent’s Rise.  So what’s the problem then? Well apart from the ever present risk of writers block, which this article is great about by the way, my real problem is plot.

I had never intended that either of the books would have sequels when they were written.  At one stage I was contemplating splitting To The Survivors into two books simply because it’s a big story and there was a lot to write about.  The scenario there does allow further stories about the world I have imagined either following the main characters or with new points of view, or even new locations set during the same timeline.  My problem here was not lack of potential for a sequel but the willingness to disappear for the months needed to write it.  To The Survivors was totally absorbing when I was writing it.  Even at 150,000 words I dropped several chapters and plot areas.  Now back in full time employment, my writing time is limited.  My fourth book The Observer Series – Book One – The World of Fives has been sitting resting unlooked at for weeks.  As you can tell from it’s title it has been planned from the start to be a series set in its own future time and place.  It’s a space opera and I have started to create a whole world around it with potentially a very large cast.  I hope to get some time to work on it over the winter but just now I’m back to the purpose of this article – a proper sequel.  So putting my other books aside  what is my problem with writing the sequel?

Plot

I haven’t lost it completely, but I created several problems in An Agent’s Demise and in retrospect I wish I had finished the book a couple of chapters earlier or at least left out a few components.  I tried to tidy up too much.  Consequently, even the start of An Agent’s Rise has proved difficult.  Where do I start, who do I start with?  The political context was also important.  The current timeline for An Agent’s Demise was 2005/6 with the news full of London bombings, and the ongoing rows about dodgy dossiers.  If I continue the story what is the political background;  more of the same or are there some other incidents I can use to blend in fact with my fiction.  I had several starting points and incidents before I settled on one start only to change it completely last weekend.  Now I need to follow the plot through and unlike the original when I wrote it I still do not know how it will end.

Characters

An Agent’s Demise was criticised because of it’s large cast and extensive use of aliases for the lead character.  Some of this was deliberate, the lead character accidentally creates a name, Mike, which is inadvertently shared with other Mikes, Michaels, and Micks in the story.  The large cast prompted me to include a cast list at the start of the book.  So starting the new book and wanting to introduce new characters, how do I remove others and narrow the cast to reasonable proportions? This is further complicated by the need to include back story elements.  If I kill off a character, well remove them from the story, can I legitimately bring them back.  Would the reader want a back story on that part to explain where they had been.  No Dallas shower dreams to render huge chunks of storyline irrelevant but the Bourne films managed to bring the lead back from his escape as the main story – nice technique but not one easy to replicate or amend.  Of course that process can influence.  Police procedural series always have a new case, a new killer because that is the nature of police work, some of these series have led to plenty of books featuring the lead protagonist from Poirot to Morse to Rebus.  The Jack Reacher series has several thrillers, but these heroes never seem to get older, slower and don’t forget Bond, the films change the lead character to refresh and has spawned whole new plots that Ian Fleming never envisaged.  The plot links are tenuous, suddenly old friends or past incidents that were never mentioned in the first books appear as back story in the new book.  Travel never takes time, daily routine never interferes, apartments are always immaculate or sparse, no clothes are washed.  Life doesn’t exist in these stories.  I appreciate people don’t want reality in a story but that leaves a sequel in more trouble.  At the end of every Bond film (not the Daniel Craig series interestingly), Bond is left with a girl but in the next film the girl is gone.  The only exception is the killed wife who is occasionally mentioned.  Still those sequels have had huge success as books and derived films.

Back Story and References To The First Book

How much back story should be included?  At one point it felt like I was re-writing the first book in précis form which was even more confusing due to the large cast.  I have backed off from this but it will need further revision.   I want the book to follow on but I also want a new reader to enjoy the book on it’s own.  Is that an impossible ask?  Are my only readers going to be people who have read Demise?  Lots of authors have had to solve this problem even JKR doesn’t try to make the Harry Potter Series as stand alone books.  Neither does Tolkien with Lord of The Rings.  Some authors do, some more successfully than others, but I have also read works where the book is impossible without having read earlier parts – I just wish I knew that before I purchased the book I tried to read.  I have resorted to making some references to the previous story with a quick explanation back story sentence.  Whether this technique will be successful or not I’ll have to wait and see.

The Writing Bug

Will this story be it or will it again lead to a new story?  A Book Three, at the moment I simply do not know as I do not have an ending.  I barely have a middle!  The other question is of course should I even write this sequel.  It’s too late for that now, I have to write it, it’s now an itch I have to scratch but it’s more than that a need that must be fulfilled, just like writing in general.  During my unemployment I wrote a lot three/four books and the starts of several others, now I’m working again I have much less time to write, but I need to, I just have to.  I don’t mean blogs or tweets I mean disappearing into an imaginary world, however close to reality, and letting characters that run around in my brain at inconvenient moments put down their thoughts onto my computer’s paper.  I was on the tube the other day and a man opposite looked around the carriage immediately my head was full of my lead character doing the same action.  Last weekend that incident transformed into a piece of counter surveillance technique on a New York Metro, thanks whoever you were.  I explained this compulsion and the characters taking over to a friend at dinner the other night, she had just flicked her hair in a particular way and I said that a little thing like that would appear as a tiny half sentence in a character and she would effectively be in the book, it is already.  The dinner was on Friday night, by Saturday afternoon that tiny inconsequential gesture was part of a character.  Nothing like my friend but the gesture was there.  Is this what psychosis is therefore do all writers suffer from schizophrenia with their multiple personalities as their characters.   When I am absorbed in writing whether a sequel or not I disappear, but when the book is finished I want to leave the characters behind, going back to some of them isn’t always like visiting old friends you haven’t seen for ages, sometimes it’s like visiting a school reunion, yes you might want to see how people turned out but do you really want to meet the school bully who made your life hell, or see that old girl/boy who you had a crush on.  Visiting my favourite characters for the sequel is a mixed blessing.  Still enough blogging more writing, there was another incident I watched that I want to write about, just a police car speeding down Marylebone Street… blue lights flashing as Mike walked by with barely a glance at the noise of the blues and twos…

The Rejection Letter

Following a GoodReads discussion forum about the relative merits of Professional published writers, Indie Published writers and Self Published writers I dropped in the following Rejection Letter from a leading publishing house to a Mr Bill Shakespeare.

Dear Bill,

We are sorry to tell you that you proposed work of Romeo and Juliet is not acceptable in its current format. Significant changes are required to the plot such as the removal of the under-age sex, violence and suicide. This is not the type of work we can currently carry. As you know we already have similar writers such as Robert Marlow on our books and we would not wish to impact his potential sales.

Writing in verse is of course challenging to many readers,however, clever it may appear to you, it will significantly limit your potential sales. Your poetry is simplistic and lacks rhythm and we have no interest in your collection of so called sonnets.  As for your proposed plot outline for A Midsummer’s Night Dream, we are not a fantasy publisher but we doubt very much whether such a story with a lead character of a donkey would appeal to anyone!  Please don’t trouble us again

Yours etc.

Hope that made you smile now it’s time to

<<START RANT

Now I appreciate that I am be a little harsh on major publishing houses but… why not.  They like the music and movie/film industry still haven’t woken up to the new technology driven world.  The best live news is now provided by mobile phone footage.  Music is prepared and published in home studios and the methods of distribution have changed dramatically.  The production of books, certainly in electronic format is a significant departure from the previous business model.  This does not mean that traditional publishing houses, music producers or movie studios cannot continue to exist, but in recent years they seem to act as no more than marketing companies rather that a sign of a quality gatekeeper.  Other better commentators have written about this and the snobbish way many publishing houses behave, I refer you to this excellent blog as an example.

My point is, and I do have a point,  Publishers need to wake up and smell the roses/coffee.  Employing interns to write reviews for their authors, bribing media reviewers via social book launches, gala nights access to advance copies is just that a bribe and could be considered a giant fraud perpetuated on the actual buying public.  Who should I trust?  A reviewer to attended a drinks and canapés book launch ,got a free copy, maybe stayed in a nice hotel who then writes gushingly about a book, or the avid reader who paid for a book with hard earned cash.  Should I believe a book labelled as The No: One Bestseller when it has only just launched to hundreds of immediate online reviews, or the slow burning self published book with mixed reviews that hasn’t had a single advert.  If Bill was writing today how would he publish his plays and sonnets?  How would Charlie Dickens?  Would he be serialised in a newspaper or on a blog that he created for himself.  Would they be allowed onto a TV Show to promote their latest ghost written work or would they be stuck hoping that someone selects their latest kindle offering potentially as a freebie in the hope that someone may download it, read it and even review it or tell their friends about this little gem they have discovered.

I hope, and let’s face it I am in business of the latter, that my few readers read my book, whilst secretly hoping some major publisher will give me a call offering that publishing deal or that movie screenplay.  With9,000 competitors each month, I know I have more chance of winning my prize on the lottery! So instead I’ll try and write some more self published fiction, I’ll try and promote my book by this and other social media, maybe even a self produced advert, although they hardly seem worth the effort.  I live to see reviews good or bad because it means someone has at least taken the time to read my offerings.

What I am not going to do is submit my books for some publishing house to decide whether they are good enough to market, notice I said market not publish because lets face it.  They don’t give xxxx about the quality of the work.  They just want it to sell at their over inflated prices.  STOP RANT>>

OK, back to the day job and even some writing, I have a story that Bill has asked me to review about incest and murder in Denmark, I’m just going to check with Bill whether with this plot outline a publisher will touch it.  What was it called Bill?  Hamlet or something, you’ll have to change the title I think they have it trade marked for a cigar, no I don’t care that you’ve spent years writing it, you cannot have that scene talking to a skull it’s just not realistic.  Could you stick a car chase in in the opening scene, TV won’t touch it otherwise….

Wandering about a Wonder in Wonderful Grammar!

I’m wondering about which wonder to wander about.  If I carry on wondering I might speculate or ponder as well, or I could amble, stroll or peruse around, into, or near a room rather than wandering in.  If I wonder too much I’ll be too concerned to be more than two minutes late for the Wonder’s opening time.  It may take two wonders before I too wander into the correct vicinity to see the wandering tourists gaze in wonder at the Wonders.

To get the right wandering use whilst wondering if I have used the correct to, too or two and not edited properly, or just not noticed as the grammar checker fails to pick up which wonder or wander is the right one to use tooTheir, the grammar programmers, collective failure in spotting that they’re making the usual mistakes over there, has nothing to do with American English or English English, just the sheer inability of this author to wonder whether he meant wander or wonder, especially when the sentence could mean either.

“Maybe, he wonders/wanders, he should wonder/wander more.”

Delete as applicable

If I bought some lessons they could be brought into my limited skill set along with all the other common errors of misused words, split infinitives, punctuation and formatting errors, or hopefully I could, right away, just write something compelling enough that no one knows which night or knight I might mean.  And, I should not start sentences, let alone paragraphs, except in dialogue, with a conjunction like and.  But, you often see them used and the grammar checkers don’t correct that.  I’ve just done it twice and, “Don’t abbreviate,” it’s said, “except in dialogue.”  Should that full stop really be a period and should it be inside the speech marks or outside.  Should it be single quotes or double for speech?

Maybe I should just write and get a publisher and editor to make it right for me, then I can win the Booker prize with almost no punctuation (Wolf Hall) or be short listed (Umbrella) or maybe I should let my readers just read but not necessarily about reeds.

I’m going to wander off now and wonder where you are wandering about, wondering what I am on about?

Link

Book Cover

To The Survivors by Philip G. Henley

First Published at Morphys Book Blog

To The Survivors was published on 13th June on only Kindle for the time being.  (Editor: now also available in Paperback) The story is completely different form my first book, An Agent’s Demise a serial killer/spy/thriller based on the events leading up to and after the second Iraq war.  As a new writer, I am experimenting with different genres based on my reading habits.  In my teens I was very keen on Science Fiction, reading many different authors Silverberg, Heinlein, Asimov, Niven and Clarke amongst many others.  Their works tended to concern space within science fiction, this is what a news diet of the space race does for the imagination, rather than my later preference for a different type of Sci-Fi such as Neal Stephenson’s books Snow Crash and The Diamond Age.  In the 1970’s the BBC, in the UK, broadcast a series called The Survivors; I was gripped by it.  The programme was remade and broadcast from 2006 to 2010 but this time I was not gripped, just frustrated by the portrayal and the reality factor.  Both series portrayed life in the UK after a major virus that kills 95% of the population.  I have covered my dissatisfaction with this, and other books, films and TV Programmes covering catastrophic events in another blog Dystopian Survival – Where Reality Sneaks In.  This blog is about my book, why I wrote what I did, and how I researched the elements that make up the story.

Firstly a disclaimer, as I point out in my disclaimer notice in the book:

I have no personal experience of the end of the world as we know it, but neither do you…

Fiction is just that, it is not real, but if, like me, you like doses of reality mixed in then this is the type of plot that I have tried to write.  The book is split into four parts.  The first deals with the virus and the government’s actions, the next three parts deal with the survivors.  What do they have to do to survive, but it also covers their thoughts on why they survive.  One of the issues I attempt to depict, is how the infected react to their impending doom, heroism, fanaticism or stoic acceptance.

For the first part I focused on the medical aspects of genetic viruses, relying on several research papers available for public viewing including reports on Bird Flu, Foot and Mouth Disease, AIDS and HIV research, but also recent Measles outbreaks and the herd immunity ideas.  I also had to research population numbers.  SPOILER – My twist to the other genetic virus stories was the impact on mammals, my virus kills them as well, and this also had to be researched in terms of common genes.  In other words, my virus plausible if highly unlikely.  Recently there has been much discussion about the rise of anti-biotic resistant viruses and diseases such as tuberculosis have made a return.  This sparked my reason for a cataclysmic story.  Much of my writing is sparked by snippets of news not necessarily the headline.  For my first book I used the production of the Iraqi dossiers in the USA and UK which convinced many sceptics that war was necessary against Iraq, then when no weapons of mass destruction were found this embarrassing misleading of politicians, media and the public was covered up.  For To The Survivors I was intrigued by the spread of measles in Wales during a recent outbreak and the seeming inability of the Authorities to cope.  I just went a lot further.

For the second part, my focus was on sustainable power and water, mainly solar, along with the basics of survival.  I also introduced the key characters for the rest of the book.  Several ideas for the house that plays a large part in the story came during the installation and setting up of my own solar power system; although it is nowhere near as extensive as the one described in the book.  The viewpoint in this stage switched from the government’s macro view to a survivor’s micro view but covering a similar time period.  The house construction had intrigued me since I saw a documentary on the building of a Huf House several years ago.  The hardest element wasn’t the house it was deciding where in the UK to locate the scenes.  Research using Google maps can only go so far, poetic license has had to be applied to find the right geography, although many locations are accurately described.

The later section of Part Two and Parts Three and Four are the story from a survivor’s perspective.  The Sci-Fi reduces as it turns to more human interaction elements.  This takes the timeline into the future and the different challenges that evolve.  This is more fiction, than science, the Sci-Fi element remains in the settings, but there is no new technology, super power abilities, or other elements typical of this genre.  New technology is ruled out due to the collapse of civilisation, no one has super power abilities unless surviving the virus is considered to be an evolutionary step by human kind.

In the book, are several quotes on the fall of civilisation. I found these or had read them previously.  I am interested in post-Roman Britain as an example of the fall of civilisation.  How did so much technology and capability disappear?  Roman houses had central heating, but nearly two thousand years later many houses in the UK still do not, or were built without it.  In all the sections, I wanted to cover the realities of living in this new world.  That has meant talking about sewage and latrines.  I am not that interested in toilets, but it’s something that I felt was missing from virtually every other book and film in the genre.  My previous experience in the military helped here, not with the descriptions but the reality of survival.  I found on deployments that living without a modern toilet or shower is not fun.  Yes camping for a few days with a chemical toilet might be an adventure but we all feel relieved when we return home to hot running water and flushing loos.  Modern humanity creates massive amounts of waste for disposal from food packaging to empty bottles.  Even a scavenging society had to dispose of its waste.  The sewers and drains no longer work so how do people cope.  This element seems to be conveniently overlooked in nearly every film, TV, or book portrayal.  The blockbuster movies love using CGI to destroy a city, when creeping grass over a road is more realistic and will eventually prevent road travel.

Character development is always tricky, I prefer not to give too vivid physical descriptions of people, not because I am not picturing them in my mind, but I want the reader to paint their own picture.  Where it is relevant I have described race and age, along with the gender, but I deliberately kept this minimal.  I have also tried to write only from what the chief protagonist knows, might know or has been told by another character.  Consequently, he does not know everything or why certain things in the plot have happened.  I have given him some character traits, which go some way to providing an insight to his actions, but again I leave some of this open to interpretation.  Mostly I wanted to write about what people did, more than why other than the overreaching to survive.

Many friends and family have asked if I have used them as the basis for my characters.  This has a yes and no answer, in that some elements are bound to filter through, but it is more likely to be a snippet rather than an entire character.  When I picture a character in my mind, I may base this on someone I have met, but it is unlikely to be a friend or family member because that will condition my thoughts rather too much.

Some survivors are more ruthless than others, which lead to other concerns about censorship and how far descriptions go.  I have blogged on this dilemma for an author before in How Far Should I Go.  It remains a cause of concern and the more extreme I am, the less audience I might have in for example Young Adult readers, my books are not for children, but I read so called adult literature as a teenager, so the YA market is confusing for me anyway.  Would I want my children to read what I have written?  They are both adults, so it does not apply now; in fact most of the moral comments have come from friends who seem surprised that I can write about sex and violence.  Morality, in my view, is easy when you are living in semi-luxury, with a full belly and enough water to drink.

History teaches us that rape and other violence is common in stressful situations from war to famine.  Disaster survivors, whether genocide or natural calamities, report different experiences, from Death Camp guards, to Schindler’s List and onwards to cannibalism in the case of the Andes air crash survivors.  If personal behaviour is based on background and culture what happens when that envelope disappears.  I am not a woman, but if I were, would I sell my body for food, shelter, or water?  As a man would I take advantage of such a woman and is that rape?  In our comfortable homes we all like to think we would behave with decency and morality, but would we?  Society no longer exists so its morals, may not survive either, in my story new moralities and behaviours takeover especially in the relationships between the survivors and the need to procreate.

In the end I have written a fictional story.  I hope thousands read it and enjoy it, but some will not, some will loathe it, some will criticise it, some will complain that it would have worked better with aliens, or zombies, or a nuclear war.  If it makes a reader turn into a writer because of their dissatisfaction with my efforts then all the better.  I am happy to move on to my next book and story, another change of genre, but that is for another day.