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When a character just won’t let you go.

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I’ve been considering this a lot recently. I’ve just completed book 8 in my DCI Dani Bevan series and with each new instalment I have to decide if it will be her last.

So I’m always fascinated when I hear other writers discussing the right time to end a long-running series, particularly a popular one with readers. I was impressed to read recently that despite its incredible success, Sally Wainwright will only pen one further series of Happy Valley. And even then, she won’t be releasing the script for some time, as she wants one of the characters to be older, as it fits with the way she feels the story is going.

Wainwright did much the same with popular ITV drama series Scott and Bailey, which was wound up in its fourth instalment earlier this year. With television production being so risk averse, this is a bold move for a scriptwriter. But Wainwright appears to remain true to the story and to the integrity of her writing.

Watching BBC2’s excellent documentary about the life of novelist Sue Townsend last night on catch-up, highlighted for me a situation that was quite the reverse. It seems that Townsend’s most popular character, Adrian Mole, whose Diary of 1980, gave the writer her first real break, proved reluctant to let his creator go.

After The Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 came its follow-up, The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole. What I hadn’t realised was that Townsend had written a number of later books exploring Adrian’s life. She commented in interviews that every few years Mole’s voice would begin to speak to her again and she knew he had more to say to the world. This would trigger a new book.

I found this concept intriguing and also recognisable. Sometimes your characters do feel as if they have more to share. A few months after completing a book, you will hear that inner voice nagging at you once again. A new story will inevitably follow.

I wondered how many other authors experienced a similar phenomenon. I make no secret of believing that literary characters take on a life of their own and almost appear to ‘write themselves’ at certain stages of the novel production process.

Sue Townsend’s extraordinary life had many fascinating aspects to interest both writers and readers alike. It turned out that Townsend had witnessed a notorious murder when she was only 8 years old. She claimed this had forced her to ‘turn in on herself’ and escape into a world of fiction. Townsend suggested that many authors had been driven to pursue an active inner life because of a similar trauma in their lives. I wonder if that’s true.

I think the undisputed success of serialised novels indicates that very often for a reader and a writer, a character or set of characters refuses to let us go.

When should we finally say goodbye? There are no easy answers. In Sue Townsend’s case, she clearly never did.

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Meet the Team

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The Garansay Press has been in operation for just over three years now. We have just published our sixteenth book. So, I thought it was about time to properly introduce the team.

I am Katherine Pathak (far right of picture). I’m the author and head of media and marketing. I write the books, the blogs and the majority of the tweets. If you are communicating with any branch of The Garansay Press, you are likely to be interacting with me. My academic and work mini biog:

University of York, Institute of Education, University of London. Purchasing Assistant, Good Book Guide. Teaching History in several London schools. Full-time author.

Robert Currie (second left). Bob is the finance director at The Garansay Press. He is also a member of the editorial team. Now retired, he still finds himself book-keeping for several organisations and start-ups. Bob is our Mr ‘details’. Also my dad. Mini biog:

RBS manager and securities consultant (retired) Company Secretary (various)

Rakesh Pathak (centre of picture) Rakesh is one of our editorial team. A busy man in his other roles, his conscientious copy editing is invaluable in getting the best out of the final product. Mini biog:

University of Oxford, Institute of Education, University of London. Head of History. Author of IB textbook.

Susan Currie (left of picture) is our resident crime fan and aficionado of the genre. Sue is our most efficient copy editor and is expert at making sure my prose style remains tight and plot focussed. Mini biog:

Dean College of Nursing, Edinburgh. RBS (retired)

To find out more about The Garansay Press and our publications please follow us on Twitter @GaransayPress and like our Facebook pages: Facebook.com/GaransayPress Facebook.com/Katherine.Pathak

 

Does second born always mean second place?

imageWe enjoy a bit of quizzing in our house. Monday evenings are a favourite, with University Challenge on BBC2 followed by Only Connect. It remains unspoken, but my husband and I enjoy some friendly rivalry during these shows, privately noting which one of us has faired the best after each episode.

My husband tends to dominate when it comes to straightforward general knowledge test, University Challenge, whereas I inch ahead with my contributions during lateral thinking and wordy puzzler, Only Connect. Recognising this little battle we take part in each week made me consider the way we approach competition in our household. I don’t believe we are hugely competitive as a family, largely because we aren’t particularly interested in competitive sport. But when it comes to brain games, it’s a different matter.

Which made me consider my own childhood. I am a younger child, the second of two daughters. My older sister was very gifted at Maths and Science from a young age. I was more of a dreamer, happy to be out on my bike than indoors reading a book. So when it came to family board games and quizzing, I simply got used to losing. I would lose at Monopoly, Whist and Scrabble on a regular basis.

I don’t recall it bothering me much. I learnt to enjoy the process of the game rather than the outcome. I suppose as we got older and the age gap becomes less of an issue, I must have started to win more, but I don’t recall it. By then, I wouldn’t much have cared. I’d lost my urge to be competitive.

I can see the same scenario emerging with my own children. My son is nearly three years younger than my daughter and I have witnessed his frustration on many occasions when he struggles to compete at Upwords or Pictionary. There are times when it’s quite heartbreaking to witness your second or third born struggle to achieve the same standard as their sibling – consigned to catch-up simply because of their position on the development scale. But does this natural pecking order have to continue into later life?

Of course not. I would tentatively say now that my sister and I are pretty evenly matched in the general knowledge stakes. Even my son is starting to creep up on his big sister in terms of drawing and word skills. But a certain legacy remains. My husband expects to win. He is an older sibling with a three and a half year gap between him and his younger brother. According to my mother-in-law, he was a terrible loser as a child.

By contrast, I’m still quite happy to lose. If we are playing a family game (usually bowling, at which I’m patchy at best), I’m comfortable to let the kids win, giving them extra goes if necessary. But my husband won’t drop his standard to let the kids get ahead. I think this is good. Children have to learn to lose and not have everything rigged in their favour, otherwise life will come as a terrible shock to them.

But I’m fascinated by the legacy created by a childhood of coming last and whether it is simply inevitable for a younger sibling during a large part of their youth. I think this inevitable inequality is a very good reason for siblings to adopt different interests and specialisms. For my sister it was Maths and tech and for me it has been History and English. This helps reduce comparison. But when it comes down to pure competitive spirit, I believe mine is muted and that this may very well be a younger child syndrome.

Whether this holds us back in life, I’m really not sure. Sometimes slow and steady wins the race. Those sitting back and waiting to catch up with their siblings/peers may well develop other crucial skills in the meantime, such as greater patience and humility. Although, no one likes to keep losing so it’s worth finding an area you can excel at, given time and practice. For now, we will keep on quizzing and soon enough our children will be beating us hands down. So let’s just hope we can take it with good grace.

 

 

 

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