Like many people, I enjoy reading books with recurring characters.  Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, for example, or Jeffrey Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme.  Provided they’re well written, they offer predictability – you know what you’re getting.

When I first decided to write stories, I mainly read books by authors who didn’t have series.  Alistair MacLean was a favourite.  He wrote thrillers with varying characters and settings: World War Two soldiers, Cold War spies, undercover cops – even a Western.  When I discovered Wilbur Smith in the ’70s, he’d achieved something similar, with a more varied genre (though he subsequently expanded on a trilogy and created another series).

At the time, what appealed was the freedom an author had by not sticking to the same characters.  You could create a range of protagonists and storylines, and even set them in different points in time.

What I ignored was the fact that some of those characters might be worth developing, or their story may need telling over more than one novel.  So imagine my disappointment when I realised someone needed to return for at least one more story, possibly (this was getting even worse!) two.

As time passed, situations arose where it made sense for some individuals to appear in other stories – and sometimes in less dominant roles.  This already happens to some extent with other authors, so having cross-over characters appear in the same universe (as it’s referred to) isn’t a new concept.

This “universe” idea seems appropriate for me as some of the settings I use are fictional.  Sherwood Forest exists, but the villages in Ravens Gathering don’t.  So I have a fictional universe to populate.

Each novel I’ve planned includes overlapping characters from previous books, some significant, some less so.  There’s a well-known theory that everyone is six (or fewer) steps away from any other person in the world, so this is just an extension of that.

Naturally, there will only be one degree of separation to start, and the only question for the reader is who will show up.  But, as more books are published, I hope it’ll add to the experience as readers encounter people they’ve come to know from other novels and sometimes see them in different roles.  After all, in real life we may be the heroes in our own stories, but we’re only bit players in everyone else’s.  I hope you’ll find it interesting to discover how this is reflected in the books to come.

Graeme Cumming

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