Unfinished business – when you’re into a great story and then suddenly . . .

I’ve been watching some terrific TV recently – I binged over the long weekend on three seasons of The Santa Clarita Diet. It’s very funny, a US zombie sitcom, with Drew Barrymore as an undead suburban soccer-mom and Timothy Olyphant as her loving husband who try to cover up the gruesome murders she commits to sate her hunger for human flesh. It’s gory – but great fun. Trust me. But at the end of Season 3, on a cliffhanger, the story abruptly ends – and I read online that they are not going to make any more episodes. At first I was sad, then annoyed – then I realised I was being a terrible hypocrite.

Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant star in The Santa Clarita Diet

The reason Netflix cancelled Diet was that they weren’t making enough money from it, or getting enough people to watch it – maybe all the gore put them off, which is something I know that some of my various books are occasionally guilty of (The Last Berserker, for example, is more than a little bloody in parts). But there are some book series where the author simply cannot find the time or the energy to finish the story arc they have created – and which their readers have invested in. Step forward George R. R. Martin.

Fans of his epic series A Song of Ice and Fire (including me) have been waiting more than a decade for him to complete the final book The Winds of Winter, and though the TV series has come and gone, he doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to close that story arc. Which made me ask myself the question . . .

Does an author have an obligation to finish a series?

My first reaction to this question was a resounding Yes! The writer has invited a bunch of strangers to come into a world that he (or she) has created – he is, in fact, their host in this place – and so he bears a duty to make their visit satisfying, so far as it is in his power. And that means finishing a story and not breaking off halfway through and saying, “Meh, I can’t be bothered with that any more.” I knew my Blood story was coming to a close – my publisher said they were not interested in publishing any more of them – so I wrote a proper ending to the series (although I kept a window open just a crack to allow another book or two, if my fortunes changed). The same with the Outlaw Chronicles – The Death of Robin Hood (below) has a massive spoiler in the title that announces the end of the story arc – although no one seems to mind, and I have done another couple of filler self-published Robin Hood novels since then.

The Death of Robin Hood - Angus Donald

So my feelings towards the mighty George R. R. Martin, who has looked at times as if he is never, ever going to finish his magnificent fantasy series, were always tinged with a little contempt (as well as a massive amount of professional jealousy). And this where I am guilty of rank hypocrisy. My fantasy novel Gates of Stone was supposed to be the first in a long running series. But Gates did really badly in the marketplace, and once again my publishers pulled the plug. The difference between Gates of Stone and A Song of Ice and Fire or The Santa Clarita Diet, is that I cannot afford to take a year out to write a sequel. George R. R. could do it, so could Netflix, but not little old me. I simply don’t have the resources or either time or money to write something that probably won’t sell in large numbers. And I find myself explaining this uncomfortable financial truth to disgruntled Gates readers on a pretty regular basis.

So I am a hypocrite – but hopefully with some mitigating factors. But this brings me to some potentially exciting news – I am in negotiations with my current publisher for three more Fire Born novels. And they seem to be quite keen on the idea. So if you read The Loki Sword (Fire Born 3) this summer, and wonder whether that is the end for Bjarki and Tor. Well, keep your fingers crossed – and watch this space.

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Nick Brett
Nick Brett
9 months ago

I tend to agree but with the books, the balance changes. With “Gates” (I enjoyed it!) it was a single book that sadly did not make it into a series. With Mr Martin, readers have invested hundreds of hours, invested in characters and invested in story arc. To have done all that to discover the author is not rewarding their faith and passion with that final novel is not great.

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