Writing a trilogy is trickier than I thought: I’ve written the three novels in ‘Between the Mountains and the Sea’ as three ‘episodes’ set ten years apart, but readers may not tackle them in chronological order. No matter how much you want her to start at the beginning, every reader may start wherever she wants. As a consequence, I can make no assumptions about what the reader already knows about previous events or understands about the characters.
Other series I’ve read with pleasure, notably the Patrick O’Brian ‘Aubrey and Maturin’ stories, make very few concessions to the reader: if you’re lost, that’s your problem. But I have tried to be a little more accommodating, and there’s the rub. For the ‘experienced’ reader I can afford to be implicit, letting them fill in the gaps from what they already know. For the ‘novice’ reader however, implicit is harder: it may drive them back into the previous episodes for greater understanding, or it might drive them away altogether. More details and back stories sometimes need to be provided, which could threaten the flow of the plot and risk annoying those for whom the repetition is unnecessary.
On the whole I think explicitness has won out, but while writing recently the final stages of Part 3 ‘Fallout’ I’ve tipped towards ‘less is more’. The main thread of the story is the one that really matters, to me at least, and is reasonably well tied together at the end. I had planned to have a big ‘set piece’ as a penultimate chapter, to update the wider cast of characters and make their futures more explicit, but when I got to that stage the big scene lost its appeal. I knew I was done when I started to cry, and didn’t want to dilute the final impact by writing more.
So the ms of ‘Fallout feels almost complete. It will have to be read out loud and crafted more thoughtfully, sentence by sentence, but the main work is done, a couple of weeks before my self-imposed deadline. Is that a good sign I wonder? After the protracted agonies of the first novel this has felt alarmingly straight-forward. If there’s something seriously awry I’m counting on my wonderful editor Charlotte to find it. Mick, my partner, has been reading as the draft has unfolded and his feedback has been invaluable, but he may be too close to see the faults clearly, as I am myself.
I recall this feeling of anti-climax: restlessness, uncertainty, desperate for feedback. The urge is to start on the next stage in self-publishing, the nightmare of promotion and ‘marketing, but I’m trying to be patient – not my strong suit. By next week I may know more and feel differently. Watch this space.