Many thanks to all of you downloading An Unconventional Officer, the first book in the Peninsular War saga. I really hope you enjoy it. It’s a long book and it’s the first in a series so I am hoping that you make a connection with the characters and want to read on. Discovering a new series of books is something of a commitment. You can read one book, put it to one side with a smile or a shrug, and not worry about it any further. But to read a series, the story and the characters have to matter.
All of my characters matter to me but I probably have more invested at the moment in Paul and Anne in An Unconventional Officer because I know a lot more about them. I’ve worked out where they are going and what happens to them and I know what they have to face along the way. I know about their friends and their family and their children.
I love reading a series. There’s a real sense of anticipation about the next book. In terms of historical novels, these are my favourites, in no particular order:
Sir Robert Carey and the James Enys series by P F Chisholm (Patricia Finney)
Falco and Flavia Alba novels by Lindsey Davis
Brother Cadfael novels by Ellis Peters
Lymond and Niccolo series by Dorothy Dunnett
Amelia Peabody novels by Elizabeth Peters
The Barforth family saga by Brenda Jagger
There are a lot of others but these are definitely my favourites. I quite enjoy some other series as well. I like thrillers, and I enjoy Val McDermid, Jeffrey Deaver, Tony Hillerman, Jonathan Kellerman, Colin Dexter, P D James, Tess Gerritson and Elizabeth George.
Sometimes a series starts well and then tails off so that I lose interest. That definitely happened with the Alex Cross series by James Patterson. I enjoyed the early ones enormously but then for me, the stories became too similar or sometimes too bizarre, in an effort to keep the series going. Sometimes I suspect it is time just to find an ending and move on.
Sometimes a series just wears me out. I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones and have followed both the novels and the TV series with considerable enthusiasm. But the last book was a struggle and although I’m still enjoying the series, I’m not sure I’ll read the next book when it arrives. It had become unremittingly depressing and hard to follow even for me, and I’ve waited too long for it. I think he’s an amazing writer, but I’m just done with them now.
Writing a series brings both opportunities and challenges for an author. There are challenges of continuity, of making sure no glaring errors occur with events and characters and history. List making, chronologies and obsessive detail is essential here. There is the challenge of keeping your readers interest. No matter how much your readers love your main characters, if all the books are about them and nothing else they are going to get bored.
I think historical novelists have an unfair advantage here, because unless we want to rewrite history, we can’t cheat. The events of the day are going to happen to our characters whether we like it or not so it forces us to think about how they might genuinely affect our protagonists. A good example of this is the growing friendship between Colonel Paul van Daan, my fictional hero of the Peninsular Wars saga and General Robert Craufurd, the irascible, brilliant commander of the light division. There are no spoilers here. Both Anne and Paul are very attached to Craufurd but anybody can check Wikipedia and realise that at some point they are going to get very upset. Craufurd died in the breaches of Ciudad Rodrigo and his friends were devastated. I can’t rewrite that to make my characters feel better…
Those are the challenges. The opportunities are equally important. A series means you get to find out what happens next. You don’t have to tie up all the loose ends in one book. You can start and end each chapter when it makes sense. You can explore other characters alongside your leads. And you can develop people in the way that happens in real life, gradually, in a series of conversations and events not in a three paragraph summary which is all you have time for.
The established wisdom of publishing now seems to be, that with very few exceptions, long novels don’t work. It is assumed that modern readers simply can’t cope. In my opinion this has more to do with publishing costs than public opinion and I do understand why a publisher who is struggling with the advent of the internet and self publishing might not be willing to take on a new author. But for me, because I’m a realist, the phrase “you’re not marketable” actually means “you’re new and therefore too much of a risk”. And that’s fine. I’ve accepted it and moved on. But since I can’t stop writing, I’ve decided to put my books out there and see. And the good news is, they’re selling. And getting good reviews and ratings. Not thousands of sales yet, but hundreds. Not dozens of reviews yet but a few and very good.
“An Unconventional Officer” was a difficult novel to publish. It’s long. Less that the Harry Potter book “Deathly Hallows” which was for children. Less than War and Peace or Catch-22. About the same as Fellowship of the Ring. I thought about splitting it into two books when I was trying to find a traditional publisher. They would either have told me to cut it or to split it into two books.
In the end I’ve published it as it is. For those of you who give it a try I hope you enjoy it. I loved writing it and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series, most of which will be shorter books covering a shorter time period.