Although I have a new series launching in August, I haven’t written any new material for some time. It was mainly due to feeling wretched, the black dog of low mood and self-doubt keeping me company whether I liked it or not. Because of that pesky beast, I was languishing in creative inertia. That’s not to say that I was entirely idle – I may have not been writing but I was thinking about writing. A self-absorbed novelist, as most of us are, I started with my own writing, but I won’t elaborate on that – it would make for a grim read. To take my mind off myself, I began musing about books and authors in general: what makes a great writer? How does one rise from the wholesale supply of thousands – hundreds of thousands – of writers to become a bestseller and a trend-setter. Because it is true that once that special and unique bestseller hits the shelves, a trend is set and hundreds of books are written in an attempt to reproduce that success.
Think Stephen King – his very own idiosyncratic, high-minded type of horror inspired a whole generation of writers keen to meet the skyrocketing demand for another Stephen King, since the real article couldn’t write fast enough. Cast your mind back to the triumph of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – hundreds of psychological thrillers with multiple unreliable narrators and the word girl in the title followed, and are still being churned out on a mass scale, because after all that’s what the reader wants.
In the first half of the last century, Agatha Christie set a trend for cosy mystery featuring a super-intelligent oddball-sleuth and to this day Christiesque private-detective stories dominate the crime fiction genre. Fast-forward a few decades and the quaint and charming Miss Marple is replaced by the moody, lone-wolf Chief Detective Inspector Morse. Further down the line he morphs into a female detective, Vera Stanhope or Jane Tennison. Their endless variants are born, grow and multiply. Detection by application of little grey cells is superseded by forensic science and police procedure.
Literary titans, such as Stephen King, Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter, Anne Cleese or Lynda La Plante are all commercial fiction trend setters. Once a trend is established, it is analysed and dissected, practised and imitated, occasionally to produce brilliant and inimitable works of fiction, but perhaps more often to generate a deluge of derivative and repetitive facsimile copies of the masters. This relentless reproduction inevitably leads to overkill. Book markets are swamped with much of the same. Fiction writing turns into mass production of cloned commodities, and in the end the standing of fiction writer in society suffers a heavy blow. Something new, something original, something that hasn’t been done before is needed: a new master to generate a new trend.
Earlier today I came across a tweet by C.J Taylor, one of the most renowned, new generation psychological thriller writers, who probably jokingly declared, and I am paraphrasing, that since the market was oversaturated with psychological thrillers it was time for something else – a suspenseful sex mystery, anyone?
She is spot on. I’ve been pondering this for a while, admittedly from my own personal perspective, with said black dog sitting by my side. Change is the name of this game. To nourish creativity, writers cannot allow themselves to default to templates. Spewing endless episodes of soap operas is not exactly what I would call creative writing. It’s time to put a full stop to my latest instalment in my DI Marsh series, and really mean it.
Astoundingly, I cannot wait for what comes next.