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The Highs and Lows of Writing a Series by Ann Coates

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Anne Coates

Anne Coates

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Imagine being deeply immersed in writing the fourth book in the Hannah Weybridge series. Perdition’s Child opens with Lucy Peters, a cardboard city dweller in Waterloo’s Bull Ring, arriving at her brother Harry’s flat and finding his dead body. So far so good. Lucy appeared in two previous books – cameo roles – and now she is centre stage. As my writing progresses, a line from Death’s Silent Judgement comes back into my mind. Something relating to a sister – not a brother. I went back to the second book to check. In DSJ Lucy has a brief conversation with Hannah at Liz Rayman’s funeral and mentions a sister. It is crucial for Perdition’s Child that the sibling is male and that there is no sister. I couldn’t go back and change the line in DSJ so I had to work around it. I finally found a neat way, which fitted in with the storyline, and Lucy’s strange life plus explained the family relationships. Phew.

That’s the thing about writing a series. You have to juggle so many back-stories. It’s rather like a complicated knitting pattern where you’ve almost finished a piece of the garment only to find you’ve dropped a stitch early on which you have to pick up and work into what you’ve already done.

When I first wrote Dancers in the Wind, I really had no idea of continuing Hannah Weybridge’s story. The fact that I’d written a novel was enough. However not enough for the agents and publishers I’d submitted to all those years ago. The manuscript languished in a drawer until I decided to resuscitate and rewrite it. It was only when Matthew Smith of Urbane Publications read a much-revised version in 2015, that the idea of a trilogy was mooted. I could hardly contain my joy. Even better there were three chapters I had written – and kept – some time ago as a sequel to Dancers with no idea of the plot.

Fast-forward to 2021 and I am writing the fifth book in the series. It’s a joy to be back in the 90s (no pandemic or Brexit to contend with) catching up with characters who have become old friends. But old friends have histories and a throwaway line in one book can come back and bite you in a later one. This has happened several times not just in the sample above.

Liz Rayman who is found dead by Hannah at the beginning of Death’s Silent Judgement was mentioned in Dancers in the Wind as having gone away to work for a major (real) medical charity. However, as I progressed with the storyline in book two, I knew the charity was involved in a major corruption. Fortunately, I was reading the proofs for Dancers so was able to replace the charity with a fictional one. And in a moment of serendipity as publication day for book two arrived several well-known charities were exposed for corrupt practices.

Only the other day, while writing a scene in my fifth book, I was looking for a name check in DSJ and discovered that Lord Rayman had had two brothers who died in the war not one as I had mentioned. Easy to remedy this time around. As was the fact that I have used the same name for two different characters.

Dancers in the Wind is set in London 1993. DSJ began some time later the following year. I soon realised that it wouldn’t work unless I filled in the background of what had happened in the intervening months so I brought DSJ back to the beginning of 1994. With the change of season, I had to change what people were wearing, the weather and so on. Often only tiny points but necessary.

I have never been tempted by “it was all a bad dream” type explanation to get me out of a narrative hole but I have recently resuscitated a character in the work in progress. That may change again, of course. Oh the god-like power we authors wield. But I like to take inspiration from Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty when often a character, played by a major actor and therefore someone we think will last the series, is killed off in an early episode. Keep your readers on their toes and shock them if you can.

I love writing within a tight time frame. Book three Songs of Innocence takes place within May 1994 and I reference some true facts like the death of John Smith, Labour Party Leader, and which teams were playing test match cricket as it adds authenticity and it’s fun for the writer. Perdition’s Child, begins in early July and ends about six weeks later. I often wonder where Hannah Weybridge finds her stamina. She has, of course, evolved over the series. She’s less naïve, more savvy but her prime motivation for speaking and standing up for those without a voice remains the same.

One of the joys of writing a series means you can shine the spotlight on a character that had a minor role in a previous book. And just in case you were wondering, yes I do keep a notebook for characters’ names and details (as well as a spread sheet) but at times it needs updating and can be missing a vital fact. Often I find myself creating a character I would like to meet or have in my life. One such is the QC Simon Ryan, the brother of Father Patrick, vicar at St John’s Waterloo. Simon is a good contact for Hannah. He watches her back and has connections to protect her. He’s a lovely man and I envisaged him rather like Michael Mansfield QC. Simon’s role is supportive and secondary but he is crucial to the plots. Perversely, Judy Benton, a nasty piece of work, pops up from time to time showing her true colours. She’s an amalgam of the unpleasant traits of journalists I’ve worked with – fortunately none was as manipulative or as selfish.

As I am writing book five, I feel this could be the last in the series… but I did write, some time ago, the opening lines for what I envisaged would be the last Hannah Weybridge book. Perhaps there is life for her after this book…

(c) Ann Coates

About Perdition’s Child:

Dulwich library is the scene of a baffling murder, followed swiftly by another in Manchester, the victims linked by nothing other than their Australian nationality. Police dismiss the idea of a serial killer, but journalist Hannah Weybridge isn’t convinced.

She is drawn into an investigation in which more Australian men are killed as they try to trace their British families. Her research reveals past horrors and present sadness, and loss linked to children who went missing after the Second World War. Have those children returned now?

Once again Hannah finds herself embroiled in a deadly mystery, a mystery complicated by the murder of Harry Peters; the brother of Lucy, one of the residents of Cardboard City she had become friendly with. It soon becomes clear Lucy is protecting secrets of her own.

What is Lucy’s link to the murders and can Hannah discover the truth before the killer strikes again?

Anne Coates gripping thriller is the perfect suspense read for fans of Emma Tallon, K.L.Slater and Laura Marshall.

Perdition’s Child will be published 6th Feb. Pre-order your copy online here.

About the author

Anne Coates has worked for newspapers and magazines as a journalist and editor, plus as an editor for various publishers. The author of seven nonfiction titles and two collections of short stories, her Hannah Weybridge crime thriller series is published by Urbane Publications, the last one, Perdition’s Child, long-listed for The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize. She lives in London at the mercy of three cats who are totally unimpressed by her literary output.

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