I was lucky enough to read an early draft of Merryn Allingham’s first ‘Daisy’ book, destined to become The Girl from Cobb Street, and so I was intrigued when I discovered that a sequel was in progress. But it didn’t end there. I’d always imagined that writing a series or trilogy was something that was meticulously planned right from the start, and in fact several of the Write Romantics have happily set off down that route themselves. But in the words of the song, it ain’t necessarily so. I’ll leave Merryn to explain how it worked for her:-
Authors are often encouraged to write sequels, or trilogies or a series featuring the same character. It’s claimed that in this way they’re more likely to attract and keep a bevy of loyal fans. To be honest, I’ve never been keen on the idea. I thought I’d grow bored with writing about the same character or the same place long before I ever finished the project. But when I came to the end of The Girl from Cobb Street, I realised that I couldn’t leave my heroine where she was. There was so much more of Daisy’s story to tell. Without realising it, I’d begun to write a trilogy.
It was something I’d never attempted before but it couldn’t be that difficult, could it? It was just three novels with the same female protagonist. Well, yes and no. Daisy Driscoll is my heroine in all three novels, but she’s not the same person at the end of book 3 as she was at the beginning of book 1. I had to make sure that her character developed in response to her experiences over the timespan of the novels, a period of ten years. And not just Daisy. It held true for every character who had a significant role. And those same characters would need to appear/reappear more than once, so that readers weren’t left wondering whatever happened to so and so? In other words, I had to finish their stories as well as Daisy’s.
Then there was the need for consistency. Not just details like the characters’ ages at certain periods (a timeline over three books is bound to be more complex) or their physical characteristics or their biographies – but making sure that there were no contradictions from book to book in their basic attitudes and values and how they expressed those attitudes and values. Or if there were contradictions, I needed to account for them.
I was well into the second book, which became The Nurse’s War, when it dawned on me that I needed to plot much more carefully. Not only did I need a beginning that would kick the whole trilogy off, rather than just the first book, but even worse, I had to know the ending of the last novel in order to offer clues along the way that would make the final dénouement plausible for the reader. Needless to say, there was some hasty rewriting at this stage!
I also had to reinforce the main themes of the trilogy – in this case, the growth of self-belief, the search for identity, the recognition of true love. I could see that I’d need to make them far more powerful than I’d first thought. Overarching themes, along with characters, hold the series together and act as a kind of umbrella, under which each individual title can shelter and connect.
Finally, I had to deal with the problem of back story. How much or how little to retell with each book. Too much and the reader who has been following the series, becomes bored and may even feel cheated by any repetition. Too little and a reader who is new to the trilogy feels confused and annoyed with the writer for making their life difficult. It was a hard balance to achieve but I hope I got it more or less right.
Would I write another trilogy? Perhaps not, but a series that combined the same female protagonist with different mysteries or crimes in different settings – now that might be interesting!
The second book in the trilogy, The Nurse’s War, will be published on 21st May. http://tinyurl.com/m7oaxzt
Find out more about Merryn here: www.merrynallingham.com
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