Tag Archives: Sherlock Holmes

When a Writer becomes a Brand

As a writer soon learns, it’s not the quality of one’s writing that counts, more how you’re going to sell it.

These days, that means selling yourself too, as your image is as vital as the plot of your book. Any aura you can generate, along with the concept created by your stories can live on, long after you’re dead. Cynics have long said that ‘dying is a great career move’. It’s especially true of musicians: just look at Michael Jackson’s sales, and Jimi Hendrix has had more albums released bearing his name since he died than he made in his lifetime.

I first became aware of this marketing phenomenon in publishing back in 1995, when I saw a sequel to Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, on which the Bladerunner film was based. Dick, himself, refused to write a novelization of the movie, though a writer-for-hire later did so. Since he died, there have been three sequels. I tried one, and it was as horrid as I anticipated.

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There have been many continuations of long-established fictional protagonists’ adventures, written by contemporary writers. James Bond has been given new life by Kingsley Amis, Sebastian Faulks, Jeffery Deaver, William Boyd and Anthony Horowitz.

Scores of writers have written Sherlock Holmes stories. Contemporary authors have had their protagonists kidnapped after they die, as with Robert B Parker‘s private detective Spenser and several other of his creations, who’ve thrived in at least fifteen novels. Sold by the owners of his estate, his relatives are coining it in! Such authors were undoubtedly glad that their family would have financial security, but I bet they’d deplore how their fictional characters have been altered.

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As a purist, I object to this, as it comes across as misrepresentation to me, a pastiche put together to capitalise on the gullibility of readers. That some people are so hooked on a character, that they don’t care who writes about them, is another matter. It leads to things like fan fiction—from which writers of the quality of E.L. James pulled themselves out of the swamp—proving my point that nothing good can come of it.

And yet, well-respected authors write their versions of literary heroes. The financial inducement must be attractive, and their hubris helps propel them through people asking, “Why the hell are you writing that, can’t you think up your own characters anymore?”

What do you think of this form of literary grave robbing?

How would you feel if your lovingly created characters lived on after you died?

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Authors who succeeded after Death

Just as cynics say “Great career move” when a fading musician dies unexpectedly, leading to a massive boost in the sales of their albums, so it takes having The Grim Reaper as your literary agent for some writers to get anywhere.

I’ve mentioned the sad tale of John Kennedy Toole in previous threads, and it would have been fascinating to know what else he would have created. At least he hasn’t been turned into a franchise operation with hired gun authors brought in to continue the series, as happened recently with Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander and the long-established James Bond and Sherlock Holmes stories.


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What Websites Do Your Characters Visit?

I previously posted a thread about What Books Do Your Characters Read? But it occurred to me, that seeing how we live much of our lives online these days, a character’s browsing history would tell a lot about them.

For instance, someone who regularly looked at satirical sites, such as Private Eye or The Onion would be markedly different to someone devoted to Drudge Report or Breitbart News Network. It would be a quick way of portraying their stance on a whole range of issues.

For something that’s so commonplace an event, surfing the web for pleasure rarely occurs in contemporary fiction, unless the plot hinges on it, of course. In my last Cornish Detective novel, my titular protagonist relies on an array of experts to assist him investigate cases involving local history, seagulls, the art market, embalming, sea currents and trawlers. His hobbies include painting, music and wildlife gardening—which I refer to, as they’re forms of meditation for him, sometimes opening up ideas about his current murder investigation.

He’s just unearthed an ancient ring in his garden while trying to dig an old tree stump out. It’s 600 years old, and he goes online to find out more about medieval jewellery…which browsing will lead him back to the case he’s trying to crack when he suddenly realises the significance of a clue that’s been staring him in the face for weeks.

I’ve had detectives on his team check facts while out in the field, using their smartphones, sometimes referring to Google Earth to get the lay of the land, when staking out a suspect’s house. One investigation required the monitoring of tracking devices that are legally fitted to ships, for reasons of safety, following them online. In the same investigation, an informer had his iPhone fitted with software that turned it into a listening device so the cops could hear him talking to his villain of a boss, via the FlexiSpy website.

No longer do stool pigeons need to be fitted with bulky microphones, tape recorders and battery packs taped to their torsos—yet an astonishing amount of modern crime novels still use this obsolete technology—the author not having done their research.

One of the irritating things about crime fiction is how many detectives and private eyes are portrayed as being inept at using computers—relying on a subordinate officer or a geeky friend to winkle out information for them. Granted, finding a solution online isn’t as exciting as the copper confronting a tough guy in a seedy bar, but it’s more efficient! I’m sure that many crime writers set their stories in olden times, to simplify the writing, as technology is a rotting albatross around the neck.

I don’t recall characters web surfing in any of the science fiction I’ve read. Does it happen?

Presumably, romance/erotica stories feature web browsing a lot, as the protagonist searches for a partner—with attendant emailing.

Do your fictional characters visit real or made-up sites as part of the life you create for them?

What about the web surfing of astronauts? Best not think about what excites Klingons or the Borg!

Has anyone written a story that hinges on their characters being addicted to social media?

What Books do your Characters Read?

I’ve just finished reading Henning Mankell’s An Event In Autumn, a Kurt Wallander thriller. It includes a 14-page afterword, in which the author reflects on how he came to start writing novels about a Swedish detective.

I was pleased to see that he chose crime fiction, as a way of exploring the problems in society, which is one of the main reasons that I began my Cornish Detective series. He quotes a Danish-Norwegian novelist Aksel Sandmosewho said ‘The only things worth writing about are love and murder’, though, Mankell reckons that money should be added, to create a perfect trinity. After all, the old adage in criminal investigations, of ‘Follow the money,’ often leads to the culprit.

Apparently, Mankell is frequently asked what books Kurt Wallander reads. In the eleven Wallander novels, he regularly listens to music, usually classical, but books are rarely mentioned. Mankell thinks his fictional detective would be a big fan of Sherlock Holmes.

It made me wonder about my own protagonist Chief Inspector Neil Kettle, who is a left-wing, Green and Bohemian copper. He’s unlike the normal rogue detective or private investigator, who are heavy drinkers, gamblers, and drug-takers with women problems; I’m bored with that old trope. My hero is eccentric, and though the son of a farmer, is rather cerebral, painting watercolour landscapes and reading books on art. I briefly mentioned in Book 1, Who Kills A Nudist?, that he prefers American crime novels (as do I), but perhaps I should say which authors he likes.

He could share my reading tastes—James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Walter Mosley and Lawrence Block—but, not Lee Child, James Patterson, Dan Brown, Tom Clancy or Stephenie Meyer.

In creating a rounded character for my protagonist, it’s important to include his preferences in music, art, clothing, food, vehicles, cinema and his attitude to the natural world. Interestingly, Mankell’s readership increased when he gave Wallander diabetes. My detective worries about going bald, went through two years of severe depression and needs to attend massage therapy to treat old injuries. It’s important to remember that readers bond with characters as much for their weaknesses as their strengths.

Fictional characters who read books include Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series, Elizabeth Bennett from Pride & Prejudice, Scout Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird, Holden Caulfield from The Catcher In The Rye, and Walter Mosley’s private investigator Leonid McGill is a real bibliophile.

Do your fictional characters read books?

Is their choice of reading matter a surprise, or does it fit their character and their profession?