I take it as a great compliment when my readers want to know what happened next to the characters of a book I’ve written. I hope they don’t feel frustrated by the ending of the book,, I hope the ending ties everything up, but leaves situations and personalities open for their own future… I definitely don’t want ‘and they all lived happily ever after’ because real life isn’t like that; my novels obviously aren’t real life, the plots and situations really couldn’t happen, but I want them to be believable within their own world.
So… I complete a novel, but I as writer have the luxury of being able to continue following the lives and stories of my people – only in my head! Having said that, on a couple of occasions I have actually written down the ‘what happens next’. This has usually been in the past when I was working at a day job and sometimes my imagination tank would be empty, but to keep physically writing I would write the next chapters of certain completed novels. What I wrote was never meant for publication, it was merely a little indulgence on my part.
However, I have found these ‘exercises’ to be useful; certain scenes, incidents, events, have found their way into later work – changed in detail of course, but essentially what I wrote in my follow-up stories. For example the end of ‘A Strong Hand from Above’ two of the characters start a new life together having experienced several terrifying and horrific incidents where they were threatened with death, shot at and shot, betrayed and nearly killed. These horrific scenes come near the end, then there is the ‘happy’ ending when all is resolved, but having completed the story I wrote separately about what their relationship might be like, having experienced such horrors. This idea, of a new relationship haunted by the past developed into a theme of ‘Flipside’, although with totally different characters with completely different histories.
In ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov’ two characters get together and in essence run away from their past lives to start a new life together. The characters in my next novel, ‘Magick’ are complete opposites of those in ‘Rosa’, but there are certain things which I wrote about which I am now using. Two people who definitely do love each other, and definitely will have a happy and long-lasting relationship, are just at the beginning of that, and are finding their way into the new situation of actually living together with all the everyday things which might give rise to misunderstandings – what is the best way to do the washing up? Are you putting the washing machine on the wrong programme and ruining my clothes? For example.
When I was writing yesterday about Sophie Kinsella’s top writing tips, I said that I don’t carry a note-book, I don’t make notes… but I do write other stuff, and sometimes that other stuff slots into a new story. Several years ago, I wrote about a little incident, nothing to do with anything, about a fat man who had to get out of bed quickly,and try and get dressed while answering the phone. I wrote about him hopping about trying to pull on his trousers, phone in one hand… and while this was happening a beautiful woman who had been in bed with him was watching his performance…Suddenly this incident which I had written, as I say several years ago, found a place in Magick:
I was woken by my phone, and thinking it was the alarm I tried to switch it off only to find I was talking to Paul, and Paul more agitated and upset than I’d ever heard him. He’s a big, calm man and always in control; I think in his youth he may have been a fighter, and now he takes and rolls with whichever metaphorical punch is thrown at him. Now he sounded as though he was hurt, winded, and panting in the corner.
“Thomas, you’ve got to help us! Tom has run away from home!”
I sat up abruptly pulling all the covers off Kylie; I was momentarily distracted by her lovely body, then flung the duvet back over her, but she was awake too.
“Did you hear the news last night? About the teacher, the teacher that was stabbed?”
“What? Tom stabbed a teacher?” I shot out of bed in pure panic mode. I don’t know where I thought I was going, stark naked.
“No, no, nothing to do with Tom. A teacher was stabbed at a school in Leeds yesterday, and there’s been a big thing about knives in school… Tom was actually watching the news with us and was terribly upset… His school is going to be even more likely to chuck him out now…I went in to see him before I left – I’m off to London – supposed to be off to London, and I just wanted to see him, not wake him, just to see my boy…and Tom wasn’t there, his bed hasn’t been slept in!”
I was relaying this to Kylie who was pulling on one of my t-shirts as I hopped about trying to put on some shorts. There’s probably not much funnier than a fat man trying to put on his shorts at any time, but hopping about one-handed and nearly catapulting myself into the wardrobe would have had Kylie laughing but she could tell from my half of the conversation that there was nothing funny about this wake-up call.