British author David Tallerman‘s short story “The Burning Room” appeared in Bull Spec #4 and was later included in Ellen Datlow’s online Full Honorable Mention List for Best Horror of the Year volume 4. Tallerman has published dozens and dozens short stories across fantasy, science fiction, and horror, and what I’ve managed to get my hands on has been of the spookier or more serious variety; as a comment on his December 2010 story “Jenny’s Sick” at Lightspeed Magazine describes his stories, “Haunting, but with a distinct narrative tone.” Yet early this year, Angry Robot published Tallerman’s debut novel, Giant Thief, featuring a sarcastically and darkly funny thief who manages to find himself in possession of, if indeed one can possess such a thing, a stolen giant, alternately stomping and bumbling his way across a low fantasy landscape, in and out of trouble, castles, boats, and carriages. Here, Tallerman writes about the hardest part of writing the recently-released sequel, Crown Thief.
I always wanted my second novel, Crown Thief, to stand on its own. As a reader, little bugs me more than getting to the final page of a book and realising that “end” means “now wait for the next installment.” I think that has as much to do with my childhood reading habits as anything; as a kid I’d load up on library books, not paying attention to much besides the covers and back blurbs. Nothing was more frustrating that getting one home and realising I couldn’t read it because I’d missed the previous five volumes, or else discovering that all I’d been reading was a taster for umpteen sequels.
Still, childhood prejudices aside, doesn’t anyone who picks up a book deserve a complete story for their money? Sure, there’s a lot to be said for the megaseries, especially when it comes to fantasy, a genre uniquely suited to telling preposterously large and epoch-spanning tales. Even then, though, it seems to me that the casual reader, the reader who impulse buys because they like a cover or blurb, shouldn’t get completely short changed. How hard is it to make a middle volume readily pickupable, or to wrap it up in a way that makes the next part a choice rather than an obligation?
Well … as it turns out, it’s pretty hard.
It didn’t take me long to realise that writing a book that feels complete but also picks up existing characters and threads and themes – and also paves the way for a planned third installment – is no easy order. It quickly occurred to me that I find it almost as irritating when a writer goes to great lengths reintroducing people and places I already know from a previous volume. And how to get around the fact that the early portions of Crown Thief involved characters backtracking over terrain they’d covered in my first book Giant Thief? What was new to one reader could soon get tired for another, while it would be all too easy to leave new readers feeling stranded.
What I ended up with was a kind of writerly multiple personality disorder. I always try and have an imaginary reader in mind, or perhaps just to keep a portion of my brain stuck in reader mode, watching over my mental shoulder to remind me what I wouldn’t stand for if I’d paid money to read my work. With Crown Thief, that reader acquired a sibling, with a whole different set of tolerances and prejudices. Keeping them both satisfied was a balancing act; it also meant accepting that I couldn’t always win. There’d inevitably be pages where the new reader was slightly befuddled or the returning reader felt a little patronised; the best I could hope was to ensure that the one never went too long without a crucial dose of background information, while the other had more than enough in Crown Thief that was fresh and different to Giant Thief that they’d forgive the occasional unwanted recap.
Did I pull it off? I hope so. I felt like I had when I reached the end, but it was definitely a weight off when an early reviewer began by pointing out that they hadn’t read Giant Thief and had enjoyed Crown Thief regardless. At the least, I’m pretty sure my younger self would have been satisfied had he snatched it up from a library shelf.
Tallerman’s Giant Thief is also available in unabridged audio from Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio, narrated by James Langton. Crown Thief is just out from Angry Robot in mass market paperback and ebook.