Friday, June 4, 2021

Deborah Crombie--It Takes a Village

DEBORAH CROMBIE: In mid-July I'm doing this fabulous panel at the virtual Malice Domestic, MORE THAN MALICE, with four of my very favorite authors, Elly Griffiths, Ann Cleeves, Peter Robinson, and Michael Nava. 

 


We all have series novels under our belts, and in the case of Ann and Elly, more than one series. (I am in awe!) We'll be moderated by the fabulous Oline Cogdill, and we'll be chatting about those subsidiary characters who fill out our novels and help bring our canvases depth and interest. I know that in all these authors' works I love the secondary characters as much as the primary protagonists.

But with every new book, we always hope to bring new readers into the series, and feeding in the backstories of this varied cast can be a challenge. Longtime readers of a series may need a little refresher as well--I know I sometimes do myself!

In this scene from the book in progress, the 19th Kincaid/James, Duncan is going to see the Howards, the mother and son who were first introduced way back in AND JUSTICE THERE IS NONE, the eighth book in the series, and who have appeared regularly in the subsequent books. Here, they have a personal connection to the victim in the murder Duncan and his team are investigating.

Just to set the scene, here's the Sun in Splendour pub, just at dusk, on a much nicer day than Duncan's.

Less than half an hour later, Kincaid emerged at Notting Hill Gate and hailed another taxi. It was already getting dark, the twilight accelerated by the overcast sky and intermittent drizzle. The market would be breaking down, and as they passed the end of Portobello Road he could see the throngs of shoppers heading back towards the tube station. Light shone cheerfully from the big windows of the Sun in Splendour on the corner.

The taxi trundled down Pembridge Crescent, avoiding Portobello which would be chock-a-block with stall holders’ vans as well as tourists. It snaked around Powis Square, where their vet, Bryony Poole, lived, then passed the Tabernacle, where Toby had been rehearsing for the ballet—a rehearsal which Kincaid had once again missed. Well, maybe he could go some way towards making that up if he asked Toby to show him his part tonight.

At Westbourne Park Kincaid got out, paid his fare, and stood gazing up at the multi-hued terraced houses. It seemed every other one was covered with scaffolding these days. The properties were scooped up by investors, renovated, then resold for amounts no one but hedge fund managers could afford. But Betty Howard and her son Wesley had so far managed to hold on to their third-floor flat, which had been in Betty’s family since her parents had emigrated from Trinidad in the days when the notorious slumlord Peter Rachman had controlled many of the tenements in Notting Hill. Betty’s parents had eventually managed to buy their flat, and after their deaths, Betty and her late husband had raised their children here. The five girls all now had families of their own and only Wesley, the youngest and only boy, still lived in the flat with Betty.

Now, glancing up, he saw that all the flat’s windows were lit. The Howards were home. With a last glance at his watch, Kincaid rang the bell.

You can tell I'm missing Notting Hill here! 

Readers, do you like having little reminders of who recurring characters are and how they fit into the series? And how much information is too much?


 

 

77 comments:

  1. Oh, now I’m intrigued and wanting to know about the connection Betty and Wesley have with the murder victim . . . .

    I like the recurring character reminders . . . usually I remember how they fit into the story, but it’s nice to know I can get my memory refreshed, especially if I seem to have forgotten the details. I’m not certain it would be too much information unless it threatened to take over too much of the story . . . .

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  2. Yes, I like reminders of when we first met a recurring character. Just that snippets usually takes me back to the book and the story and it does add to why we like seeing them from time to time.

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    1. Sometimes I have trouble remembering the details of my own recurring characters and have to go back and check previous books before I put in those little snippets.

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  3. That's always the challenge, isn't it? How much information is too much. I love reading - and writing - recurring characters, and a brief reminder is much appreciated.

    I'm always excited at the prospect of a new book from you, Debs!

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    1. You do it so well, Edith, and across multiple series. My mind boggles! Do you keep character files?

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    2. Thank you. Oh, yes, I try to keep careful records. For each series I have a file (in Scrivener) with everything I know about each character, including things like the color of the police uniforms and cruisers, the address of the protagonist's business, all the little things one forgets!

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  4. I'm following the comments with a deep personal interest. I'm working on the 11th book in my series and each time, I have to battle to find the balance of enough/not too much information on returning and recurring characters.

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    1. I'll be writing the 11th in my Country Store series later this summer. Yep!

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    2. It really is a challenge, isn't it, Annette? And you have to so careful not to put in spoilers about previous cases...

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    3. Oh, I’d never thought of the issue of not slipping in spoilers from earlier books! Love reminders of connections to characters in earlier titles.

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  5. I like the reminders, Debs. Even though I've read them all twice, I still need those clues. And you do it so well. What I hate is artificial drivel, as in "George, who was born and raised in East Bumf**k, and who killed his first wife and sloppily dismembered her, looked hungrily at the egg on his plate while wearing his Izod shirt in golf green." You all know what I mean!

    Edith is right, a brief reminder is appreciated, and brief is the operative word.

    Now, about that new book. How long do I have to wait?

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    1. spitting out coffee here Ann. I was about to use exactly that line for the George in my book...

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    2. Me, too, Ann. You missed your calling...satire! Why, that line was brilliant!

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    3. Ann, you have completely upstaged me this morning! Now we all want to read about George in his Izod shirt. You've missed your calling!

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    4. I want to know which country club prison George now resides in. That's brilliant, Ann.

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    5. Whoa! Thank you all. On the rare occasions I’ve tried to write fiction, nothing has come forth. So we shall never know what happened to George or if he got to keep his golf green shirt. But I hope he ended up in Angola.

      We’ve had a real Murder here. Guy murders and then dismembered his girlfriend. Some parts were found in the backyard and others in a Lake Ontario inlet/pond. He turned himself in yesterday. No mention of what he was wearing.

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    6. How horrible. I hope he fries.

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  6. Sounds like a splendid panel Debs! And yes, like Annette, my book 11 will be out in August. We, the authors, know exactly who these people are, but new readers sure don't. And regular readers appreciate a tiny bit of backstory too I think!

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    1. Eleven must be the magic number, Lucy! And, yes, I'm very excited about this panel, although I'm not sure how all the technical stuff is going to work.

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  7. Yes to brief reminders (thank you) and YES to a new book about Gemma and Duncan. Bring it on, Debs! ...and leave George and his Izod shirt well out of it (great line, Ann).

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    1. I don't know--George may have to make an appearance!

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    2. Debs, I hereby give you all rights to George

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  8. Little reminders are correct for me. Especially when I already feel for them.
    I’m so looking forward to this book Debs !

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  9. Yes, I do like reminders about recurring characters, especially if we haven’t seen them since three or four books ago. As I was reading your snippet here I sort of recognized the name Howard, but I couldn’t remember who that family was. When you mentioned Wesley, I perked up because he’s one of my favorite characters. I couldn’t remember his last name. And now I can’t read the book soon enough!

    DebRo

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    1. Wesley has been one of my favorite characters, too, since his very first scene in And Justice There is None, where he was just a friend of a "person of interest." One of the best parts of writing is when these characters show up and demand to be a part of the series.

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  10. What a great setup. Yes, I like a little reminder - especially when I haven't seen the character for a couple of books. I always struggle with the balance of too much vs. not enough.

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  11. The challenge is reminding readers who a character is without spoiling it for a new reader who then goes back and reads that earlier book. Just enough and not too much: easy to say, hard to navigate.

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    1. Great session last night with you, Hank, Debra, and the others!

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    2. That’s so true, Hallie. Also filling in new readers while not boring regular readers

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    3. Rhys, exactly! There's some author--can't remember who now--who has the irritating habit of using the exact same snippet for introducing secondary characters--sort of cut and paste in each book.

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  12. Yes please to little snippets of reminders. No to the green Izod. I do enjoy the way you carry recurring characters through the books. Some characters I do wonder what is happening with them. Some I never want to see again. When can I preorder this next book? I’m up to the Garden of Lamentations in my rereading.

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    1. You have one more book to go, Ann, A Bitter Feast, and maybe after that you'll be able to preorder the new one!

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  13. I definitely appreciate the little reminder. My experience today was almost exactly like Deb Ro -- when you said "The Howards" it sounded familiar but I couldn't quite recall. As soon as you mentioned Wesley, it all came back.

    I will also add that over the past few years I have added a lot more series to my reading mix, and I find that even if I loved the series, it is getting harder to keep straight which minor characters belong in which series. So the little reminders are more important to me than ever!

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  14. “Little” is the key. The character’s whole story and connection way too much, especially in a new-to-me series being read from the beginning in close time. Like so many others, “Howard” was a dim reminder, “Wesley” snapped it into place. And, oh, I remember Betty and her fabrics. Thank you, Deborah, for the snippet.

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    1. I do talk about Betty's fabrics in the rest of that scene! I always want to be in that flat.

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    2. With those words on fabrics, you now have me saying “Write faster”. ;-)

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  15. Debs, I am so excited about your next book!
    Yes, I appreciate the reminders of who the characters are when they reappear after a couple of books. I have reread most of your books at least once and also listened to many of them on Audible, so I am in very good shape when you bring characters back into a new story. Like Susan, I now have begun many series by many authors so, it is important to have reminders of who the secondary characters are in a new book.

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  16. Yes, I remember Betty and Wesley, maybe from the book about the little girl who became their adopted daughter? Good job with the setting. Time for a return visit to London and Portobello Road.

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    1. Yes, that's in Necessary as Blood, where Betty fosters Charlotte for a short while. And I am definitely ready for a visit to Portobello Road!

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  17. Yes, to reminders, as long as they are introduced creatively: part of a conversation, as a rationale for some action, etc.

    I've been binge-reading a series by Ellery Adams, the Storyton Book Retreat books, and there is a large host of recurring characters, one of which is the retreat itself. Even though I'm reading them concurrently, and in order, I still need reminders of who, what, where and when, and Adams does a good job of making that clear without seeming repetitious.

    #19! Wow. Doesn't that blow your mind, Debs?

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    1. It does! I'll be really thrilled when I finish this one and can move on to #20:-)

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  18. Count me as one who is so missing my friends from Notting Hill and thereabouts! I do appreciate little reminders about characters' back stories. In just that snippet you showed us you gave enough information that it all came back to me. As far as I am concerned you do it magnificently! When can we get our hands on this book, please?

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  19. Such an amazing panel! And it’s the same situation in standalones actually… Because the characters had lives before the book, and the author needs to quickly make it clear what that history was without dumping in a bunch of explanation.
    But the big news is this new book! Hooray hooray!

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    1. Absolutely, it's a pain to be on page 250 of a stand-alone with 100 pages left to read saying to yourself, "Who is this guy again? Where did he come into the story?"
      However, it isn't always the author's fault when that happens. Senior reader here!

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    2. Hank, yes, maybe it's even harder in a standalone. You've written both standalones and series--what do you think?

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    3. One advantage of ebooks is the ability to look up previous mentions of a character when my mind has overlooked an introduction.

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  20. I think it's nice to touch base lightly with past characters who are re-emerging in a new story, the way you did with Bryony Poole in your example. But, no, I don't need massive info dumps on recurring characters. In this particular case, it's interesting to have Duncan speculate on Betty and Wesley's flat because it gives a sense of the changing face of Notting Hill, and hints at future developments for characters we love. It offers new directions, while reminding committed fans about recurring characters.

    What I don't need in that space is "Betty and Wesley, who were involved in the murder of an antiques dealer years back, and who make wonderful carnival costumes, and who taught Kit to cook, and, oh yes, Wesley is a photographer and . . . " If you stopped to do that with every recurring character (Melody Talbot, who comes from wealthy landed gentry, and broke up with her rock star boyfriend in a messy scene in the driveway, and . . ." it would be beyond tedious. You do a lovely job of delineating a character, new or old, with just a few well-chosen brushstrokes before you move the story forward.

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    1. Well, there is a tiny bit about Betty's costumes, and Wesley's photographs, in the rest of that scene:-) But I did love the "anchoring in place" bit, cueing where these people and places are in relation to one another.

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    2. I remember your secondary characters, Deborah, because you make them so real--and they're allowed to grown and change too--and speaking of Melody and Andy...two of my favorites! I remember Andy's walk-on bit and how he grew from there. The Sound of Broken Glass is one of favorites in the series.

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    3. Mine, too, Flora. I'm not sure what is happening with Melody and Andy in the current book. I keep hoping they'll tell me:-)

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  21. I concur regarding the reminders. I remembered Wesley and his mom but not their last name and didn't remember Trinidad at all. Little snippets help keep everyone straight in my head. Can't wait for your next book.

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    1. I had to go back and check to make sure it was Trinidad!

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  22. What a brilliant panel, Debs! All my favorites in one place
    And I also deal with juggling recurring characters, reminding reader who they are without being boring

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    1. Rhys, you do it brilliantly! And you know we all love your recurring secondary characters. The books wouldn't be the same without Queenie and Belinda. And even Fig, unlikeable as she is!

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  23. Yes, please. I need all the help I can get. Especially when those recurring secondary characters aren't in every book. Just a reminder, not a full-scale biography.

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  24. Yes, I do like reminders of recurring characters even when they are some of my favorites. I often remember their names, but I don't always remember their history and if I do, I don't mind a refresher.

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  25. I like to have that information. Sometimes, I need it even if I am up to date on a series. It's hard to keep everyone straight when it's been a year since I visited a location and I've read so many books in between.

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  26. Quickly, before I lose my internet yet again--I think you do this brilliantly, Deborah. One of the reasons your books are so satisfying--so much depth--of location, of characters--primary and secondary. Just re-read the one where Duncan discovers his sister is seeing Ronnie--I loved that character and was gratified with this snippet of news.

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    1. I keep wanting to get back to Cheshire and see how things are with Ronnie and Juliet and Duncan's parents. I might even have an idea for a book...

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    2. Yay!!!! Finish one, I'm already waiting impatiently for the next!

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  27. Deborah,

    Love love love recurring characters. I am reading a new to me book series and I noticed that your blurb is on one of these books. I loved the first novel. I am sorry to say that I'm disappointed by the next three books because there are still unresolved questions at the end and the stories become more violent. Though there are recurring characters, some of them get little mention in some of the books.

    Love your novels. I am trying to imagine Duncan Kincaid. Which British actor do you see as Duncan?

    Look forward to reading your next Gemma and Duncan novel. Will it be published in 2022?

    Regarding the Virtual Malice conference, I already registered and Fingers Crossed that the live discussions will have English subtitles / captions.

    Diana

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    1. Yes, Diana, it will be 2022. You know I can never pick an actor for Duncan1 It's so difficult, and the actors keep aging out of the part!

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    2. Deborah, perhaps the actor who plays Barnaby on Midsomer Murders?

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    3. Deborah, for some reason I thought Duncan Kincaid was older?

      Diana

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  28. I like your secondary characters; they add depth to the story with their interactions with Duncan and Gemma.I've read the books enough times that I know them well. I would like to see more of Erika. She has such a rapport with Kit. And Andy -- definitely need to see more of Andy. I don't know if you consider him a secondary character, but I hope he is sticking around and that he and Melody can patch things up.

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    1. I miss Erika, too, and am hoping she will have a little outing in this book, but I haven't managed to work that in yet. I miss Hazel, too, but it's so hard to work everyone in.

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  29. I just love this panel with you and Dom/Elly on it, and Anne Cleeves, too. I know the guys will be brilliant, too. But, you and Dom are my favorites, and at the top of my list of authors who have the best secondary characters. Of course, it goes without saying that you two have major characters with whom I have fallen forever in love. This will be an outstanding panel.

    And, oh your excerpt! I can't wait to see how the Howards are involved. I am longing to have this book in my hands before 2022, but I can wait because I know it's a pot of gold I'll be enjoying at the end of that wait.

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    1. Isn't the panel going to be fun? I just want to listen to the other authors!

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  30. Reminders are helpful, even with the little notes I make as I read each one. It also makes the books work alone for those who haven't read the whole series. You've made me want to return to Notting Hill also, in a book if not yet IRL. <3

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    1. I so miss Notting Hill and Portobello Market. Even cruising around in Google maps makes me feel better.

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  31. I love series and recurring characters but do appreciate some reminders. I don't like authors mentioning the murder or major points from other previous murders but I understand it must be hard if the murderer was a minor supporting character. Maybe the bad thing that happened to the partner, policeman, etc. instead of Office Jones shot Mrs. Robinson in the kitchen. Looking forward to the new book. Stay safe and well.

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    1. I try not to give away the solution in previous books. Some spoilers can't be avoided--new readers will know that Duncan and Gemma are married, and that they adopt Charlotte (although they actually haven't, officially!)

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