Continuing the Story

Brook and Sarah discuss the different ways an author’s world is continued after they stop creating it.

We discuss

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sue Grafton

Dorothy L. Sayers

Ian Fleming

Anthony Horowitz

Lee Child

Agatha Christie

Sophie Hannah

Moneypenny Diaries series by Samantha Weinberg

Young Bond series by Charlie Higson

Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer

Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mysteries by Vicki Delany

The Lady Sherlock Series by Sherry Thomas

Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene

Hardy Boys series Franklin W. Dixon

Blind Love (1890) Wilkie Collins

Death on the Nile (2022 film)

References

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/tip-sheet/article/63973-how-i-wrote-a-new-agatha-christie-mystery.html

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Music: Signs To Nowhere by Shane Ivers – www.silvermansound.com

Transcript

Sarah Welcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.

Brook And I’m Brook. And we both love mystery. 

Sarah Hi Brook.

Brook Hi Sarah. How are you doing today?

Sarah I’m good, thank you. And how are you?

Brook I’m great. I wanted to wish you a happy Thanksgiving because I believe you’re celebrating this weekend in Canada is that right?

Sarah That is right. It’s our Thanksgiving. We have it a little earlier than you do in the US. I think it’s because our growing season is shorter, although this year around here it still feels like August. But really, it’s one of my favorite holidays because we just get together and eat.

Brook Yes, mine too. But I do have to wait almost another month to get to celebrate. So, I’m a little jealous.

Sarah Well, you know you could always have a piece of pumpkin pie this weekend and think about your Canadian friends having their Thanksgiving.

Brook I’m going to do that. Great idea.

Sarah So, today we are going to talk about continuing the story, which I’m really looking forward to talking about with you. I’ll just give a brief overview and then we can get started.

So, what happens when an author dies? In most cases, the characters and the worlds that they’ve created are also effectively dead or perhaps more accurately. They cease to be developed any further. But there are examples especially when a character or a series is beloved by fans. When the story continues after the original creator stops creating.

Before we get too far into this conversation, it’s worth defining a few terms. Canon refers to stories that are from the original author. There’s no question that the information that’s revealed in those stories belongs in the world they created. Just as an aside, the first usage of canon in a non-biblical sense is in reference to Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation Sherlock Holmes.

So while there’s no strict definition of what is canon, particularly in other genres, especially thinking about fans of Star Trek and Star Wars debating over which of the continuations of those worlds belong in in the official canon. It is helpful to think about the original works as canon as well as those created with permission or at the request of the rights holders. 

Pastiche prefers to stories that are intentionally in the spirit of the original characters. Their language. Their habits. They’re all consistent with the original but the information that’s revealed in those stories isn’t necessarily accepted as being fact in the original world. 

Parody is exaggerating an element generally accepted as belonging to the world, typically for humor. Think The Pink Panther and detective fiction. 

And finally, fan fiction is an unauthorized expansion of the story often in unexplored or impossible storylines relative to the original. An example of this might be fan fiction where a story includes the relationship between two characters who are not romantically connected in the original series. These stories are typically shared amongst fans on fan forums or discussion boards.

Even when a continuation is intended to be canon, fans of the original work hold strong opinions. A non-mystery example is the world created by J.R.R. Tolkien. The recently released Rings of Power series is largely extrapolated from his original works. However, any deviations are analyzed and criticized by passionate fans. 

Continuation is not limited to the screen. Consider the recent release of Marple. New short stories featuring Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, or James Bond who has continued to exercise his license to kill after Ian Fleming’s death thanks to the pens of eight other authors including Anthony Horowitz. 

And I’m mentioning Horowitz specifically because not only is he the current author adding to the Bond world but Horowitz has also written new Sherlock novels commissioned by the Doyle estate. 

As with those who care deeply about Middle Earth, Sherlock is an example where fans care very deeply and meticulously review every detail to assess how closely the new work aligns with what they believe the original author intended. 

Which makes me think that anyone who takes on this challenge is incredibly brave as there is a population of people who are so devoted to a character who you know are going to read the story or novel through a very critical lens. 

So, Brook, I thought we would start today by talking about authors whose works actually haven’t been continued. Are there any characters that you wish there was more of to read?

Brook Oh, that’s a good question, Sarah. Well, I can think of one of my favorite series of all time. It was the Sue Grafton Alphabet Series and Grafton passed away just before she wrote the final book. She wrote up to Y and did not write Z.

But I’m actually going to be a little contrary here because I feel like it wouldn’t be the same if someone else carried that on and maybe I’m just as ardent of a fan as some of those other debating fans that you were talking about before because, I’m okay with it being unfinished.  However, that’s an example of something that definitely could have been picked up. In fact, I’m sure she probably had some notes made and the family could have chosen to have that continued and they didn’t. What about you? Are there some stories you can think of?

Sarah I’ve been reading some of Dorothy L Sayer’s works and I’d love to see Peter Whimsy solving some more crimes. I really like him as a character. So yeah, I wouldn’t mind seeing some more of that.

Brook And that brings up the topic of the fact that it really does have to be authorized when you get to that stage. Grafton’s family would have had to authorize that and as the same with the Sayers estate. 

And I think that it brings up a really interesting point that’s been playing on my mind this week. It would be such an honor to have a fan base that would care this much. I think it’s interesting and wonderful that these works of art, these stories are important enough and real to us that we want the story to continue. And I just think it’s an amazing thing about literature that there’s that demand for it to have the story continue.

Sarah I agree. What a legacy to leave behind that not only do people enjoy your stories, they want more of them and they care so much about them that they’re creating their own versions. I agree. It would definitely be an honor. 

You were talking about kind of authorization and I was reading about Lee Child. He’s still alive, but in 2020 he announced that his brother Andrew would take over writing the Jack Reacher series, which I think is actually a really clever way of doing it because it allowed them to collaborate I think on three books I think the last of their collaborations is coming out later this year. But it allowed them to collaborate before he stepped away and maybe we’ll see more of that in the future where that handover is planned and it happens before the author dies. And I wonder if having that really intentional takeover quiets some of the potential criticism that fans might voice.

Brook Yeah that’s true. I think that you’re right. It was a really intentional and a cool strategy. In an interview he gave he mentioned that his brother Andrew was the perfect person because they have the same childhood. They have the same memories. They share so much DNA that it’s going to be the closest possible person to carry on and hopefully shape the Reacher stories in a similar way that he would. 

But I like that idea that an author plans that ahead and plans it forward and maybe even chooses the person who they would like to carry on the legacy of their characters. 

Something you said in the beginning, I felt this way too. I sit down to write in fear that I won’t be able to do it again when writing my own little series. But the idea of sitting down to try to carry on a series by Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle. I mean the pressure… It just seems unreal and it just goes to show how fantastic Sophie Hannah and Anthony Horowitz or any of these people who have taken on and been commissioned to do that. They are amazing and fantastic authors to be able to do that.

Sarah Oh, absolutely. And I think it would be such an honor to receive that request. But, you’re right. There would be so much pressure. I’ve been listening to one of Sophie Hannah’s continuation of the Poirot mysteries and, I just think about how much research I imagine you would need to do. You’d have to do such a close read of all of the original works. To really get down the things that the character would say or the movements that the character would make or how the character would solve the mystery. It would be … I can’t imagine.

Brook I know, I know. I have a great quote from Sophie Hannah because I was thinking the exact same things. I started looking into how did she prepare, and so this is just a little part of an article from Publishers Weekly. And we can certainly link to it, but she says, “When my agent first suggested to me that I ought to write a new Hercule Poirot novel for Agatha Christie’s publishers I knew two things straight away. That this might be the most exciting creative challenge I could ever undertake and that I would not want to write a continuation novel for any other writer. Not even one that I loved.” And then she goes on to say that ironically it didn’t seem like such a stretch for her to do it and then she said “Why didn’t it? Why did it feel so natural and possible. I think it’s because Agatha Christie’s influence is such an integral part of my writerly DNA and always has been. She was my main influence and the writer who made me fall in love with mysteries.”

Sarah Wow. I just… For me, I love Agatha Christie but I feel like I would I would have to do so much work to just feel confident enough in sharing whatever I’d written in essentially her name with the world. It’s hard enough for me to share what I write under my name.

Brook Exactly. I’m also listening I’ve also been listening to one of her continuation Poirot novels this week. And I am constantly struck by how well she carries on, like you said, his mannerisms his dialogue, the way he would interact. You could be reading a Christie novel. It’s uncanny the way she does it and it’s really fun. Her characterization is great. If you are an ardent fan and have chosen not to pick up these continuations because you are such a fan of Agatha Christie I encourage you to give it a try and I think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how similar and wonderful the stories are.

Sarah Yeah, I agree. This is the second one of hers that I’ve read and I’ve enjoyed them both. And I’ll definitely read the others. It doesn’t feel like you’re reading someone else’s attempt at writing like Agatha Christie.

I think we will do a whole episode on this at another time, but you know I know there are some series, particularly Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys that were actually written by ghost writers all writing under the same name. And it would be interesting, I’m sure someone has done kind of an analysis to see if they can pick out whether two stories were written by the same ultimately written by the same individual or if you can tell that it was two different authors, even though they’re both using Carolyn Keene or FW Dixon as their author names.

Brook I think that would be fun, Sarah to do some comparison. I did think of them in preparation for today, as well. And they did have somebody creating the outlines. And so, I think that would at least structure them similarly but still we all have our own fingerprint as authors. So, I think it would be really interesting to see if you can tell that would be a fun episode to do.

Sarah And another episode that I think we’ll do in future will be about our favorite screen adaptations. But I thought maybe we could briefly talk about the recent release of Death on the Nile where there’s backstory about Poirot’s mustache. In Agatha Christie’s original works and even in Sophie Hannah’s, there’s no backstory that’s really given about it. There’s reference to it, certainly because that’s a key part of the character. What we saw in the movie was entirely Kenneth Branagh’s creation, although I assume that it was done with permission.

I actually didn’t look this up but I wonder if Christie fans who are perhaps not quite as passionate or as vocal as Sherlockian fans or Star Trek or Star Wars fans, I don’t know if people accept that story that was in Death on the Nile if they accept that as canon, as the real history behind the mustache. What do you think?

Brook You know, I’ve shared before that I am not one of those people who has read every Christie novel. I enjoy her immensely, but I wouldn’t say that I’m one of those fans that knows each and every thing about a series and it even bugged me.  Maybe it’s because I’m such a traditionalist at heart that you know anything like that, I really want the traditional. I just really want those ah details carried over. I think that part of why it bothered me was that I felt that Christie was being very intentional not sharing a backstory for Poirot. 

That was almost a thing about him, that he was this kind of mysterious guy and how did he get so intelligent and how did he become such a good detective. I think I liked that intrigue and I didn’t need it explained away. I don’t need to know about that. I liked having that question mark. What did what did you feel about it, Sarah?

Sarah So, I’m like you. I haven’t—yet—read all of Agatha Christie’s original works. But I actually hadn’t given it as much thought. I just kind of accepted Poirot as who he was. I thought the backstory was interesting but I’m not sure that it adds to him. I wonder if Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot, by adding that backstory, he provides some opportunity for his Poirot to be a little different than Christie’s and maybe that’s what his plan is right? Like maybe he’s got some grand plans that we don’t know about yet. But I wasn’t quite as bothered by it. But I also didn’t think that it was necessary.

Brook Yeah, good points and the fact of the matter is, we see more of these if what we hear in the media is correct. We’ll see more of these film adaptations and so in order to bring it into the contemporary age and the tastes of an audience, maybe he has a master plan like you said.

Sarah I think there’s been particularly with James Bond… and actually you see this with Sherlock as well. But I think the Fleming estate actually commissioned some expansion of the Bond world through adjacent characters or by looking at Bond’s past. I think there’s a series—a Young Bond series I haven’t read it. And then there’s also a few books under a series called the Moneypenny Diaries, and again I haven’t read those. But just providing some additional back history and some, additional insight into the Bond character and the Bond world. 

And I think that you know to be asked to do that may feel like a little less pressure than if you were asked to continue that original series. And we see that I think with Sherlock, but it’s not necessarily been sanctioned by the Doyle estate. And I think some of the difference is that most of the Sherlock stories are out of copyright and so anyone can create something related that character without needing to have the permission of the estate. 

I know there was some trouble that Nancy Springer and Netflix got into with the Enola Holmes film that came out a couple of years ago. There’s a Sherlock series or a Lady Sherlock series where rather than being a male it’s a female named Charlotte Holmes who’s the detective and she’s created this myth of Sherlock being her brother but it’s actually her doing the investigating. That’s an interesting way to incorporate Sherlock themes into a story without actually having him be there.

Brook I enjoyed your definitions at the beginning and so in thinking about something like Lady Sherlock or the Enola Holmes. Do they fall into the category of pastiche?

Sarah I think so. We spoke with Vicki Delaney earlier this year and her series is set in modern day, there’s a character who has very Sherlockian traits. But in her bookshop, she talked about the Easter eggs that she puts in for true Sherlock fans. I think hers would be considered pastiche as well. And something set in modern day can’t be considered canon because that’s not when the original was set.

Brook True and I think that’s a good point that seems less daunting to carry on the themes and the ideas and maybe even some of the characters in spinoff ways rather than trying to write additional canon material. In our preparation this week I came across a very touching story I thought where Wilkie Collins actually had a novel in progress called Blind Love. And on his deathbed, he asked his friend Walter Besant if he would finish the novel for him and I just found it incredibly touching. It was so important to the author that the book get finished and then to be the friend to be asked to finish it. I just thought it was a wonderful story and I will have to pick up Blind Love sometime because I do like Wilkie Collins.

Sarah Yeah, that’s so that’s a really nice story, Brook. And we’ve talked about some high-profile authors where their stories have been continued but I think there’s other examples where a novel has been finished when the author has died unexpectedly and perhaps the series continued by that… by the person who finished the original. I actually think that’s a really nice thing.

Brook It would be such an honor.

Sarah So ,thanks, Brook. I think this was a really great conversation to talk about continuation and I think there’s definitely more that we can talk about in future episodes related to this.

Brook Definitely. Thanks so much, Sarah, this was a lot of fun. And thank you all for listening today on Clued in Mystery. I’m Brook.

Sarah And I’m Sarah and we both love mystery.