THE TRAITOR QUEEN (UK | US | AUS) has gone straight into the Sunday Times fiction chart at number one in the UK, showing that her fans have been desperate for the final instalment in this fantastic series. To mark the publication, we asked her to tell us how she feels about reaching the end of such a beloved series, here’s what she said:
Sequels. Prequels. Love them or hate them, you can’t escape the fact that every author who has a book published will be asked if there will be more. When the last page was proofed of the last book in the Black Magician trilogy I had been working on it for over seven years and I have to admit it, I was tired of the world and (gasp!) even sick of the characters I had lived and loved and cried with for so long. So my answer then was ‘no’.
I’ve learned since then to never give such definite answers to these kinds of questions.
You see, even as I wound up the story in The High Lord, there were little ideas twitching in the corner of my vision whispering, ‘This could be fun to develop.’ Then it occurred to me that the story of the Sachakan War, the impetus for the formation of the Magicians’ Guild of Kyralia, might fill a book. Still, I ignored these ideas, knowing they weren’t substantial enough. Yet.
By the time I had written the Age of Five trilogy, those ideas had grown up, met, had a few parties, married and bred new bold little ideas, all demanding to be written. Enough time had passed that I was ready to venture into the world of Sonea and the magicians of the Guild again.
So first came The Magician’s Apprentice (I am still amazed that nobody had yet written a book by that title), set around six hundred years before the events in the Black Magician trilogy. (It turns out it’s impossible to make it clear in the narrative that a book is a prequel. You can’t have characters thinking that it’s six hundred years before an event that hasn’t happened yet. It really did my head in.) Then came the Traitor Spy trilogy, set twenty years after the Black Magician trilogy. I learned that writing a sequel has its own challenges and rewards. Thinking about this recently, this recipe popped into my head:
Recipe for Writing a Sequel
One existing series, well matured
- A new threat
- A new mystery or two
- New characters
- A romance or three
- Themes and issues to taste
- Take existing series. Trim tantalising loose ends and set aside. Extract familiar, well-loved and matured characters, taking into account how growing conditions may have changed their flavour and texture. Choose those best suited to the new story.
- Add new characters, selecting only those in harmony with the familiar ones yet taking care that they add a fresh perspective and aren’t too similar to those in the previous story.
- Combine in prepared world a little larger than expected, as this dish tends to increase in dimensions as it develops.
- Add the new threat along with a mystery or two. Cook slowly for three novels, increasing temperature slowly. Pay attention. Threats and mysteries tend to disintegrate all of a sudden if you cook them too long after they are resolved, and all you will get is a bland, disappointing mess.
- Romances may be added at the beginning or partway through. Take the same care as with the threat. Romances lose their flavour if resolved too quickly.
- Spice with issues and themes, both preserved from last season and freshly harvested. Add a plot twist or two.
- Now consider the loose ends you set aside before. Select those worth using, but not all of them. Every story should have a few loose ends, as it creates possibilities for future flavour combinations, and that leaves the reader wanting more.
- Serve as quickly as possible, with sides of blog articles and interviews, and garnished with a signing or two. Bon appétit!
Now the trouble with explaining it in recipe form is that it suggests there’s a formula. If only it was that easy. In fact, if you look at the ingredients you’ll see that it is a lot like writing an original story, only with added complexity and restrictions. So while you have an established world and characters, they have all changed significantly. And you must try not to repeat what you did before.
Now that I have finished the Traitor Spy trilogy people keep asking me if there’ll be more books to come. I give them the answer I should have given when I finished the Black Magician trilogy: I’ll never say ‘never’.