Tessa Lunney ~
I have written two books in the Kiki Button mysteries, spy fiction novels set in 1920s Paris. After two books, I feel I can confidently say that I have no idea how to write a series. How did I write a series without knowing what to do?
Each book is the last book
I write each book as though it is the last book.
Firstly, this is to satisfy myself as a reader. I have watched many TV series where the show has been cancelled before the story has resolved. It’s so upsetting! I would never want to visit this on anyone else. It’s also happened with books, where I can’t get the next book, or the first book, as it’s fallen out of print. So, I try and make each book I write complete in itself.
Secondly, when I wrote the first book, I didn’t know if anyone would publish it. It was set up as a series, but I didn’t have a contract to write it, so the book was its own world. The second book was written with a baby at my feet, during a pandemic, for a publisher a world away – I felt like I was writing into the wind. This book was the only book, a message in a bottle.
Thirdly, writing as if each book is the last book pushes me to make the characters more interesting, the story more exciting, and the details more precise. I don’t know if anything will happen next, so nothing can be left for next time. All fireworks and sweet secrets have to be in the book in front of me.
Leaving threads (aka wiggle room)
But I do have a series in my mind. Each book might be the last, but history doesn’t end, and I have ideas I want to explore. I leave myself threads to pick up for the next book.
Sometimes this works well, such as with the historical situation and the emotional development of the characters. The 1920s in Paris were so exciting, and dangerous, with wonderful people and wild revolution seeming to appear all the time. My characters are young and battle-scarred, with plenty of room for self-discovery.
But sometimes this works less well; for example, when I envisage something for the plot, but it falls flat when I come to write it out. My world changed so much between writing book one and book two, that the threads I had left for myself were not at all what I wanted to talk about; they no longer related to the world I lived in. Still, I was grateful for them – even though some parts didn’t work as I had hoped, leaving myself some thread to begin weaving a new plot was a help.
Sometimes the thread is as simple and fundamental as the series structure.
I have written two books, set in consecutive calendar years, 1921 and 1922. The books look at the rise of fanatical ideology in Europe between the wars, mostly fascism but also Communism. With these two ideas – each book a new calendar year, each plot about something political – I can begin to plan.
A place to live
1920s Paris is a place I want to live. Kiki Button is a woman I want to live with and live through. Between my heroine and her time and place, I have somewhere that I love and long to return to, a place to play and dream, a place where I can look slant-wise at some of the division in our contemporary world. I want to return to Kiki’s Paris, I have famous people I want to ‘meet’ through my writing, I want to know why Europe was so fervently in favour of such violently radical ideas that they were willing to tear themselves apart. I want to live through the time, through Kiki Button, to see how these ideas relate to the present day. These desires made returning for the second book easy, and are already informing my ideas for a third book.
I write for myself
If you have ever been to a writing class, you will have been told, at some point, to write for your perfect reader. My perfect reader is myself. Not because I am the most sophisticated or insightful reader, but because I am a voracious reader. I read a lot of historical thrillers and, when searching for my next book, I wanted something specific. I searched and searched but I couldn’t quite find it, I didn’t know how to go about finding it (especially not on my Kindle at 2am). This is how the first Kiki Button book came to be written: out of need.
Then I had a contract for a second book, but it was a pandemic, I had a small baby, I was often alone. All my readers were busy home-schooling their kids through lockdown, or transferring all their work online, or otherwise trapped in a pandemic-restricted life. Who else would I write for? During the writing, I was the only reader. I could only write for myself.
I don’t know if this is the right way to write, but it was the best I could do. I hope that it gives the two books some consistency in its ideas and its tone. More than that, I hope it gives them some honesty.
So, what next?
Who knows? But I can tell you that a third Kiki Button mystery will be set in 1923. In 1923 was Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch. Lenin had had a stroke and Stalin was assuming power. In 1923 the dance craze the Charleston began to take hold. Chagall returned to Paris, disillusioned with the new Russia, and Breton was looking hard at Surrealism…
I don’t quite know what comes next, but I’m excited to find out.
— Tessa Lunney
Tessa Lunney is a novelist, short fiction writer, reviewer, and poet. She holds a Doctorate of Creative Arts in Australian war fiction from Western Sydney University. Her debut novel, April in Paris, 1921, received wide praise across the industry, and her short fiction has won awards. In her spare time, she reads, wears vintage, dances lindy hop, and stalks Parisian-style bars for their champagne cocktails. She lives and works on Bidjiagal and Gadigal lands in Sydney, Australia. You can read more about Tessa and her work on her website.
Instagram: @tessawynn and @misskikibutton
You can purchase Autumn Leaves, 1922 here:
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2 thoughts on “How to Write a Series – Guest Post by Tessa Lunney”
Your book(s) sound fascinating – right in my “reader wheelhouse”. I have found DEFEATED on Netflix (post WWII Germany in Berlin, right after end of war when all things are up for grabs) and although some of the plot points are forced (seems to me) I am so intrigued with the time/place and dilemmas. Looking forward to joining Kiki – will order #1 right now. I have written historical fiction and now I am working on a mystery series based on a character named Dee Rommel, present day, Portland Maine. I am on the second book right now- and totally “get” what you are saying about the challenges of a series. So thanks for that – got me back to the computer today! Jule Selbo
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