When I finished writing my first novel ‘Inheritance’, which is a standalone book, set in contemporary Australia, I had no ideas about writing either historical fiction or a series. However, we had moved to an area on the mid-north coast of NSW, an area that figured prominently in the early days of colonisation, and I became interested in its history.
This led me to explore the attitudes towards women in the nineteenth century, and I decided that my next book must be about the life of a woman in that era, when women had few rights and were dominated by men. I determined that my character would be a spirited woman who did not take kindly to subjugation. Then I began to look at the attitudes towards women over the years, and decided it would be interesting to do a story of three generations of women – mother, daughter and grand-daughter – spanning the second half of the nineteenth century and up to the end of the flapper era, the 1930’s. Would the patronising attitudes of men towards women have altered? And how would women have changed? I realised it could not be told in a single book, and decided to make it a series of three books, one for each generation. So far so good.
What I did not realise was the problems posed to writers of series.
The first book, ‘An Independent Woman’, was straightforward. The main character, Kitty, lived her life in the book and when book one ended, she had a daughter, Joy, who was a baby. Now, I had to continue Kitty’s story in book two, so I couldn’t just start it when Joy was a grown woman, too much time would have passed.
First problem – how to cover the years as Joy grows from child to young woman, and hold the reader’s interest? Not an easy task. She went to school. She learned to ride and developed a love of horses. Not riveting phases of her life! So book two, ‘A Liberated Woman’, continued Kitty’s story, and covered Joy’s life from age thirteen to young womanhood.
Second problem, as time passes there is the continuation of characters, and how they would change as they were affected by the changing history of the times. It was a period of uncertainty in Australia, when there was continulal debate over the decision of whether the separate colonies should join together to form the Federation of Austalia or not – some for, some against. There was also a severe recession in the 1990’s. How would my characters be affected by these problems?
I thought I knew my characters well but when it came to writing scenes I realised there were so many small details to remember, particularly with places and minor characters. How exactly had I described Lady Barron? Craddock? Harry Osborne? In which hotel in Sydney had Kitty stayed? Minor points perhaps but important enough that I had to return to book one to check.
And with a series there is always the question of how much to explain in the second, and subsequent, books in case people start reading that one first. Each book must really be able to stand alone as well as being read in sequence, but it’s hard to do that without boring those who have read the first book. Finding the balance between these needs is challenging. Each book must have its own plot, its own characters, including some from previous books, and its own changing tensions. But it must still relate to the preceding story and answer the questions left unanswered at the end of that, and to have its own problems unresolved at the end that will be answered in the next book, if you want readers to be waiting for the next of the series.
When ‘A Liberated Woman’ was published last year in paperback ( the ebook will be available on Kindle and Smashwords later this month) I knew it was time to get on with book three, but already I could see that the planned trilogy would not be enough. There would have to be at least a fourth book if I was to fulfil my original intention.
By now I’ve started keeping a list of characters and other important facts, hoping to overcome some of the problems. I’m still writing book three of the series, which I hope to publish by the end of this year, but I am already thinking ahead to book four. And will that be enough? Or is this why series keep growing? Only time will tell.