Voice of a Nation.
So, that's Book 4 done then. Actually, that's not really true. It's done in the sense that it's been through three edits with Agent and Editor, it's been through a couple of other people at Penguin too, and so far, no one has told me they hate it. In fact, quite the opposite, which is something of a relief. Whenever that first wave of approval lands, psychologically it feels like a massive, final hurdle has been negotiated, but the truth is, there's still a way to go. It's yet to go to my Copy Editor, whose eagle-eyes always manage to bring interesting and important questions to the table - but, I suppose, in terms of the actual creating, it's pretty much done. To prove as much, I've spent the last month working on Book 5, which I'll talk about in a bit.
For those who don't know, or haven't read the sample chapters at the back of Vanished, Book 4 will be called Never Coming Back. At this stage, seven months out from publication, I don't want to talk too much about the plot, and especially don't want to be drawn on the consequences of Vanished's finale, even though I'm still getting lots of emails from people asking me what it means. (Thank you, by the way, to everyone who has got in touch, here, via email, on Twitter, or on Facebook.) What I will say is that, as I've alluded to before, the new book represents a subtle change of direction for the characters of the series, and for me as a writer. I use the word 'subtle' because I don't want to worry anyone. It won't be set on a distant planet. It won't be erotic fiction. It won't be erotic fiction set on a distant planet either. (Just so we're clear.) It'll still be a thriller, it'll still, I hope, be the same mix of pace and excitement, of characters you care about and a few you'd like to see meet a sticky end. But The Dead Tracks and Vanished were both set entirely in and around London, and when I started thinking about where I wanted to go in the fourth book, I was sure of one thing, fairly early on: I needed to get out of the city.
It wasn't London's fault. London remains a huge, sprawling, brilliant place to set a thriller. It's a city with so much breadth that I feel certain I'll come back to it again, because so much of it - and, in particular, so much of its amazing history - is still to be explored in my books. But this time, I needed to try something different. If you've read the sample chapters in Vanished, you'll know the prologue is set in Las Vegas in 2007, while the two chapters after that are set in south Devon in the here and now. (Well, November 2012). The choice of locations was deliberate.
I grew up reading American crime fiction – and am, I confess, fascinated by American culture – so I've always, deep down, harboured an ambition to write something based in the States. But while the idea of it appeals, the reality has always kept me back. For me, there's a big difference between writing a crime thriller set in America, and writing an American crime thriller. American crime fiction has a special, undefinable 'feel' which sets it apart from British crime fiction (and, indeed, crime fiction from any other part of the world); not a better feel, just a different one. If Michael Connelly and Mo Hayder were asked to write the same chapter using the same characters and the same basic outline, they'd come back with two pieces that were noticeably - probably vastly - different. Both excel in their own environment, and in their ability to observe it. The British and American voice isn't the same, even if we speak the same language. Can you imagine what a Michael Connelly novel would feel like if it were set in Bristol? Would it feel British? I doubt it. When he took Harry Bosch out of L.A. to Hong Kong in Nine Dragons, that book still felt American, even while Bosch was seven thousand miles away. In the end, it doesn't come down to ability or to research, it comes down to something more natural: voice.
There are exceptions to the rule, of course. People like Lee Child and John Connolly are brilliant exponents of American crime writing and both hail from close to home. But I've read books by British writers – fantastic British writers – who've set one or more of their books in America and, for me, they've always felt British, even when the action is played out in L.A or New York, and the cast is made up of FBI agents or city cops. There's nothing wrong with that, and it didn't spoil my enjoyment of those books at all, but I think there can be minor consequences: perhaps you're never quite transported the whole way into that world, because the turn of phrase isn't quite right, and the observations don't quite ring true. So, when I decided to set part of Never Coming Back in Las Vegas, I did so with some trepidation, and with an intention to offset the effects of my… well, Britishness, immediately. My hope is that the solution has worked – and that, in not talking about it, you'll understand that it's not to do with protecting some incredibly innovative new way of writing, but simply because I'd be revealing too much plot!
What's for certain is that, after an early trip out to Vegas, oodles of research, hours spent talking to experts, and especially after reading the amazing Supercasino by Peter Earley (recommended if you're interested in the city), setting the other eighty percent of the book in a pocket of south Devon I know like the back of my hand proved to be an excellent decision. A two-hour drive down the road made research a breeze, plus the beautiful, rugged, occasionally ever-so-slightly-sinister coves, coastline and wide open spaces of the Start Bay area proved the total antithesis of Vanished's dark, enclosed Tube stations. It felt liberating and energising, and I think, in the end, it was why I look back on the writing of this book as being (largely) enjoyable. Not without its challenges, but definitely not as tough a write as Vanished, which was my absolute nemesis.
So, next, it's Book 5. It's still in its very earliest stages, still titleless, and still, in a lot of ways, yet to be properly clear in my head. A couple of months back, a few people on Twitter seemed genuinely horrified when I admitted that I don't plan in detail beyond the first 30-40% of the book. But I don't. It's just how I've always written. I have a synopsis of where I think it will go beyond that 40% mark, but plans change. Halfway into a book, the plan can seem obstructive or too obvious, and at that point I want the freedom to take it off somewhere else, not to feel guilty or worried that I'm straying from something I came up with four, or five, or six months before. That ability to invent and change direction led to things like the ending to The Dead Tracks and the secret in Sam Wren's life in Vanished. I think it keeps things fresh and exciting for me - and, most importantly, I think it keeps things fresh and exciting for you, the reader.
P.S. Since the last blog, I've read:
Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner
Whispers of the Dead by Simon Beckett
The Drop by Michael Connelly
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick
… and am currently halfway through 11.22.63 by Stephen King
Author of the David Raker novels