At what point does a writer run out of steam?

As a reader I love book series – there is nothing more thrilling than hearing that a favourite author is writing or has just finished or is about to publish a new book… It wasn’t just me, but all my reading groups, and lots of other friends were in a froth of anticipation when it was announced C.J. Sansom had written another Shardlake book… oh the excitement, and almost dread… the previous one, ‘Lamentation‘ had been sensational, surely nothing could beat it… supposing it wasn’t just so-so but a bit dull, supposing it showed the author becoming stale with his recurring characters? We shouldn’t have feared, ‘Tombland’ is a masterpiece and has now knocked ‘Heartstone’ off top spot my rankings for Sansom’s books

Authors like Agatha Christie wrote so many books with a set of characters, Poirot appeared in forty-four novels and short stories fifteen other books and short stories with Miss Marple…, Both those characters came to a final conclusion and although some of the stories aren’t as good as others, there’s no sense that Christie was becoming fed up with her people – although I daresay she was. Conan Doyle wanted to end the stories of Sherlock Holmes and tried to do so, but then had to bring Sherlock, Lazarus-like, back from the Reichenbach Falls.

I’ve written here seveal times about a favourite author, Nevada Barr and her character Anna Pigeon. I first read the books not long after they were published, and was a little nervous going back in case I didn’t enjoy them as much… but I did! I still thought they were marvellous, but I was in awe of Barr’s ability to describe  place and create a location so vividly.  I began to read the rest of her books – I think I’d only originally read the first five, so I was delighted there were more. On reflection my favourites were ‘Firestorm’ and ‘Blind Descent’, but all of them were of interest as I learned about the different National Parks where Ana Pigeon is a ranger. Obviously some I liked more than others, but I did begin to feel that understandably they were becoming a little formulaic; Anna always came under physical attack and broke all differ bits of her body but still managed to fight her way out of whatever impossible situation she was in. I began to lose just a tiny bit of belief in her – and a reader has to believe in the characters!! I started book 16, ‘Borderline’ and somehow I just couldn’t engage – in the previous book Anna had been through a very traumatic situation and as in many of the stories, nearly died, so it was understandable that in this story she is suffering from PTSD. I put it aside and I’ve started reading it again now. I know characters have to change and develop, and Anna has aged by nearly twenty years over the series, but I’m just beginning to feel the character is beginning to creak a little. It maybe different if this was the first book I had read by Barr. I hope when I finish this novel, I will report back that after a stodgy start it bucked up and I was really gripped and excited by it – I hope so.

This has made me think about my recurring character, Thomas Radwinter; I first wrote about him in 2013 when he was thirty-three, and I have followed his life in a story-line incidental to the main one of a genealogical mystery (or two) and other adventures. I am now writing book seven… but at what point will I think this character is stale, readers won’t be interested in any more of his adventures and any more of his family’s life? I hope I will realise when enough is enough… otherwise Thomas will be into his fifties like Anna Pigeon!


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