Earlier this year I finally launched my debut novel, The Burning Ash, a decade on from when I first started it. With that book now done, I’ve already made a start on the sequel. From the initial ideas of The Burning Ash, I always knew it was going to be a series, and I always knew roughly the shape of the series I wanted to write. That said, when it comes time to sit down and write the sequel, you’re left with a number of questions on how to proceed.
- How long is this series going to be?
- Is it going to follow the same characters all the way through?
- Is the series written in chronological order?
- What is the overall aim for the series?
And so on. Anybody aiming to write a series will always have to face these questions at some point and this is how I approached them.
How long is this series going to be?
Some of the most famous book series ever are Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, the Inheritance Cycle, Discworld, A Series of Unfortunate Events and so on. They vary from Trilogies, to Tetralogies/Quadrilogies, to Heptalogies/Septologies. And more. Does the story you’re aiming to tell need just one book, two, three, four or more to cover everything you need to?
I’ve never been fond of the idea of writing without an end goal in sight. It’s why whenever I write, I know what I’m working towards and where my characters need to get to. This does put you at risk of forcing characters to act in ways which they wouldn’t normally and there are so many books and stories which feel so contrived at times. The challenge becomes figuring out how to realistically and naturally get your characters to the point where you need them, while being open to changing that end goal if it doesn’t fit.
I’ve had the plans for the second book in The Burning Ash Cycle formulating for a while but the ideas for the end point never quite felt right for the stories I wanted to tell. It’s only now that I’ve started and begun to figure out my characters that the ending point has become clear.
That said, I’ve always planned to make The Burning Ash Cycle a seven-book series. I suppose this is in part due to the frequency of the number seven throughout various franchises (7 Harry Potter Books, 7 Chaos Emeralds in Sonic the Hedgehog, 7 Dragon Balls in the Dragon Ball series, etc.); and it felt like an ambitious goal to shoot for. Considering it took me a decade to get The Burning Ash from its first words to publishing, if it took that long for every book that’d be 70 years of my life. Fingers crossed it will not take me that long to finish the series, but it’s nice to know that this series has the potential to keep me occupied for the rest of my life.
Is it going to follow the same characters all the way through?
Most book series follow the same characters. There’s a few instances like Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy which introduces a new protagonist who is the primary focus for the second book, but the series still remains Lyra’s story. You then get series like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld which has a few regular characters throughout but which focus on a new cast within the same world.
While I truly love the cast of The Burning Ash and want to return to them and their lives someday, I also know that my series was never going to follow just one cast of characters. Part of the inspiration for the series was the idea of experimentation. I’m a new writer, and The Burning Ash was my first real novel. Plus, while I love fantasy, there are other genres which I enjoy experiencing. So, why not work on what amounts to an anthology series in the vein of American Horror Story or Black Mirror?
With the strong emphasis on Norse Mythology in The Burning Ash, I toyed with the idea of basing each novel on one of the nine realms: Niflheim, Muspelheim, Asgard, Midgard, Jotunheim, Vanaheim, Alfheim, Svartalfheim, and Helheim.
As Helheim effectively covers two realms: Helheim and in my mind, Alfheim, it made sense to merge two other realms together into the same novel at some point. This would leave me with seven novels covering the nine realms and meant I could have fun with genres and characters. Midgard being Earth and creating a novel in my home city of Nottingham was an exciting prospect. Taking the Norse Niflheim, the world of Mist and setting that story in space; Muspelheim, the land of fire, and turning that into a super hero epic filled with explosions; it was these thoughts which ultimately firmed up my decision to go with this more experimental genre hopping series.
The most fun element is the opportunity of at one point throwing all of those characters and worlds together like a literary Avengers of sorts.
Having that chance to explore will hopefully continue to improve my writing, but also give me a whole bunch of worlds which I can potentially return to at some point in the future. That can in part be a monetary benefit, after all, I can always return to the most popular world first; but also, I can see which worlds I most enjoy and want to investigate more.
Is the series written in chronological order?
When I knew that the series was going to follow different realms (though I guarantee they will be interconnected), I also knew that the series was never going to be in chronological order. Book 2, while a sequel in the series, takes place before Book 1. Book 6 and 7, at present, are both going to cover time across the full series. It’s a small thing, but it opens up potential different avenues as I go.
What is the overall aim for the series?
As I’ve said many times before on social media, on blogs, and on videos over the years; whenever I write, I write in the hopes of creating something fun for people to enjoy. Our world right now can be a miserable place. Politics is a cesspit of various levels of extreme speech after extreme speech and actions which years ago no sane person could have predicted. Climate Change is causing all sorts of weirdness in the weather including loads of terrifying natural disasters. And as amazing as a lot of the books, tv and films coming out these days are; there’s a lot of serious, dark, and troubling narratives. There’s so much, that I get ridiculously excited whenever something light and fun arrives.
That’s what I want my books to be for people. A fun light in an often overly dark world. That doesn’t mean I won’t touch on more challenging issues (I mean, the first book has a lot about death in it, and Book 2 is keeping that up), but it’s not the main focus. The main focus is fun. In my mind, that’s never going to change.
And so that’s where I’m at. I’m about 20% through Book 2 at the minute and I’m looking forward to seeing where my new characters take me on their journey through Nottingham. I’ve already had a delightful time highlighting the Nottingham Playhouse and I cannot wait to go backstage of the Theatre Royal once again.