Christmas Special Including Festive Celebrations In Your Novel
It's Christmas!!!!! With the patron saint of December, Noddy Holder, screaming from radios across the UK for the past month, it's time to consider how to use festivals and holidays in your novel.
I will be taking a short break over the festive period, so this is an extra-long, bumper edition!
I've written a couple of books that feature Christmas and Easter. Note that these were not "Christmas Books", rather they were books where the action took place over the festive period. Writing books set over a public holiday opens narrative possibilities, but also imposes some restrictions that need to be considered.
You may also want to consider other holidays and festivals. Your characters may come from a background that routinely celebrate other traditions, both religious or secular. How do you to deal with these?
For the purposes of this article, I am going to assume that your novel is UK-based, with some references where appropriate to the US etc, where things may be different.
I'll look at other traditions later on, but given the date this is published, let's deal with the large, tinsel-covered elephant in the room first.
Christmas To celebrate or not to celebrate? The first question you should ask yourself is whether your character will be celebrating Christmas. Even if they are a Grinch, it's likely that most of the people around them will be celebrating. How does this affect your character? Is there a reason they don't celebrate? Do they resent others celebrating? Christmas may nominally be a Christian festival taking advantage of a pre-existing winter celebration, but in modern, multicultural Britain, it has long-since morphed into a mid-winter, family holiday, marked in some way by most people. Don't assume that just because a character is not a Christian that they ignore Christmas, the chances are they don't. After all, who doesn't enjoy a public holiday when the weather is miserable, where you and loved-ones are likely to be off work together, and there is an excuse to eat too much, party and watch TV all day? I've worked with Hindus, Muslims and non-Christians a lot over the years and everyone took part in the office Secret Santa and came to the Christmas meal. If your character has kids, then they are going to be just as keen to get free stuff off a jolly old fat bloke as anyone.
One thing you might consider is that police and other key workers will still need to provide the same service over the festive period, as they do on every other day of the year. In this case, non-Christians might sometimes be open to a bit of horse-trading regarding shift patterns. It's not uncommon for Muslim colleagues to work Christmas day in exchange for taking Eid off, for example.
How do your characters celebrate? The chances are that you have memories of childhood Christmases; traditions that developed over the years, making the festive period special. But the first time you celebrate Christmas with a partner's family you often realise that even if you are completely alike on every other level, their idea of Christmas may differ quite significantly from yours. Ask friends or co-workers about how they celebrate. Do they do something different? It was always a source of fascination to me that at our Anglo-Italian friends would turn-up to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve wearing their Christmas presents. Their tradition was to open presents on Christmas Eve. Some European countries have a large meal on Christmas Eve. Followers of the Eastern Orthodox tradition celebrate Christmas on January the 7th, rather than December 25th. How would your characters celebrate?
In the UK and many Commonwealth countries, December the 26th is called Boxing Day and is also a public holiday; it's quite common to visit family and friends. Canadians celebrate it but the US doesn't. Some European countries treat it as a second Christmas day. Don't forget to allow for this when planning how the story unfolds during this period - do your characters have the day off? Are they 'on call'?
Weather Despite the Hollywood and Victorian images of a white Christmas, most of the UK (especially down south) is typically grey, miserable and cold at Christmas, rather than blanketed in beautiful white snow. If you want to be historically accurate, you can find archived weather reports online. I once had a proof-reader comment that the summer I set a book in, rather than being hot and dry was actually rather wet. To avoid nit-picking by Amazon reviewers, if the weather is not crucial to the plot-line, why not look up the actual weather for the period in which your book is set, and write it into the story?
Joyous, domestic bliss and peace to all men? Contrary to what the supermarket Christmas adverts would have us believe, Christmas is not always a wondrous time spent with our loved ones. For many, it can be stressful and fraught with worry, not to mention expensive. The logistics of preparing a big, show-stopper meal for more people than usual, decisions on who to invite, who to visit and how to navigate separated or blended families are all sources of stress, but are potential goldmines for writers. What do you do when your niece neglects to mention that they are now vegan? Tragically, cases of domestic violence often spike over this period, especially where alcohol is involved. Does your character dread Christmas? Are they secretly relieved when their phone goes off in the middle of the Queen's speech, calling them out to a suspicious death? Or are they annoyed that they can't have a drink because they are on-call, and irritated when they have to miss Dr Who?
New Year's Eve In the UK, as with many other countries, Christmas celebrations often become merged with the upcoming public holiday on January 1st (and January 2nd in some countries). However, with Christmas and New Year's day falling on a different day of the week each year, you will need to check how that affects your story. What happens to the public holiday if Christmas day or New Year's Day fall over a weekend? Small details like that are easy to miss, especially if you move events in your story around to change the pace etc. As with Christmas, traditions also vary. The Scots famously celebrate Hogmanay, whilst in northern England 'first footing' as the new year is rung-in is common.
But what about other festivals or holidays? Hanukkah The eight day festival of lights takes place between late-November and late-December. Although a relatively minor festival (and NOT a Jewish Christmas), it's timing means that inevitably, some families take the opportunity to celebrate in a similar manner. Check the dates that Hanukkah is scheduled to fall in the year your book is set. Will your characters celebrate? Will they have a 'hybrid' Christmas/Hanukkah celebration?
There are also other Jewish Holidays, varying in significance. Is your character observant or secular? Again, check the dates that they are scheduled the year your book is set.
Easter and Passover The nature of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism is such that the two traditions often overlap. Unlike Christmas which occurs on a fixed date each year, the dates for Easter (and thus Lent and Holy Week) and Passover, are set by the lunar calendar, meaning they occur sometime within a period of roughly a month in the Northern Hemisphere's spring. Again, check your dates.
Ramadan and Eid If your characters are Muslim, they may observeRamadan, a month of fasting between the hours of sun-up and sun-down. Again, the date changes each year, as it is based on the Islamic calendar. When does Ramadan fall during your novel? What will the weather be like for those fasting? How long will the day be for them? To cope with a day without sustenance (including water, if it is safe to do so), Muslims have a pre-dawn meal, and then break their fast after sundown. This is often a social, family affair with rituals such as eating dates. How will this affect your character - might they be itching to get home to break the fast after a long shift?
At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate the festival of Eid al-Fitr. There are many spiritual aspects to this festival, but it is also typically a day of celebration. It is a public holiday in many countries; in the UK it is not a holiday, but increasing numbers of organisations allow a day's leave. How a person celebrates will depend on their own cultural background, so in the UK, Muslims from different traditions or heritages will have their own way of marking the day. How would your Muslim character choose to celebrate? What is their heritage?
Muslims also celebrate a second festival, Eid al-Adha, roughly two months after Eid al-Fitr. This coincides with the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims hope to accomplish at least once in their lifetime. How will your character mark Eid al-Adha?
Diwali A festival of lights, it is celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. It takes place over five days and also moves each year, typically falling between mid-October and mid-November. The five days each have significance, with specific rituals, and it is usually seen as a major celebration. How it is celebrated will vary depending on your character's cultural and religious background, so it is worth doing your research. As it is a festival of light, fireworks are common, which in the UK is convenient as the festival typically falls close to bonfire night (see below).
Weekly Observances Does your character observe any regular religious practises? Muslims pray five times a day, but Friday is especially important, with visits to the Mosque. Christians traditionally regard Sunday as 'a day of rest'. Whilst the numbers attending church have fallen significantly, the remnants of the UK's nominally Christian heritage can be seen in reduced trading times on Sundays and restrictions on alcohol etc (these vary between the four nations, so do your research!). The Jewish sabbath falls between sun-down on Friday and sun-down on Saturday, and for the most observant they cannot work or travel in that time (with quite strict interpretations of what constitutes work). How observant is your character? Do they follow these rules in their daily lives?
Non-religious public holidays or popular celebrations Thanksgiving. I am including this after finding out that some Americans don't realise that this (and July the fourth) are not celebrated in the UK! In America, Thanksgiving is at least as important (if not more so) than Christmas in the UK, and in fact the traditional Turkey dinner is remarkably similar to that celebrated by many British people on Christmas day. In the United States, Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday in November. In Canada, it is celebrated on the second Monday in October.
And whilst we're on the subject, Mother's day is also celebrated on different days in the UK and the US.
Public Holidays or celebrations Check the calendar to see when public holidays (bank holidays) fall. Do closed businesses cause problems for your main character? Don't forget that bank holidays can vary between the home nations. What about other celebrations? Halloween is becoming increasingly popular in the UK. It isn't a public holiday, but traditions such as fancy dress parties and trick or treating are becoming more common. November the 5th (bonfire night) marks the foiling of Guy Fawke's plot to blow-up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Combined with Diwali, the setting off of fireworks can now last throughout much of October and November. Does this cause problems for your character? Are they sleep-deprived after being kept awake by late-night revellers or howling pets?
And finally, consider the dates of school holidays - this may have an impact on your character if they are a parent, or have a partner who is a teacher. DCI Warren Jones' wife, Susan, is a biology teacher. Depending on when the book is set, Susan may be off school.
Well thank you if you've read all of this! Hopefully it will tide you over until the new year, when I will start writing again.
As always, feel free to comment or share here or on social media.
Have a great Christmas, however you choose to celebrate it, and see you in 2021!
Getting Social The use of Social Media in your novel (Part 2)
Welcome to this week's #TuesdayTip. Last week's blog post discussed whether or not to use Social Media in your novel. It covered some of the issues to be considered and described some of the most common services and applications, focusing initially on the Facebook-owned services, including WhatsApp and Instagram.
This week, I am going to look at some of the darker issues raised by Social Media that may provide you with inspiration for your story.
After the read more cut, I will describe non-Facebook-owned services, such as Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat and some more niche services, such as Telegram and Signal. For accuracy, don't forget to check when these services became widely available (and where) and when they implemented different features. My earlier posts (34 and 35) on using mobile phone technology in your books can be read as a companion piece to this articles .
The Dark Side of Social Media. Social media, or social networking, can be a lot of fun. For many of us, these services provide an easy way to maintain contact with friends and loved ones, network with like-minded individuals, read and share media or news articles, and laugh at rude memes or pictures of cats. The enforced loneliness of lockdown has made these services all the more popular.
But it does have a dark-side.
Echo-Chambers and Rabbit holes The way that social media is designed to work, means that it can be an echo-chamber, as we tend to like and follow those we agree with. The network's algorithms will then serve up more content that it thinks we will enjoy. This amplifies views that we agree with and can distort our perception of what the majority of society think. Many people are shocked at the outcome of elections and referendums, because all the people that they interacted with prior to the ballot intended to vote the same way as they do, with those who disagreed hidden from view. YouTube is very good at predicting what videos you will most like, based on those you have already watched and others with apparently similar tastes have also seen. This can lead to bias and the amplification of conspiracy theories and disinformation. Search for videos on 5G conspiracies linked to Covid and after watching a couple of videos by conspiracy theorists, YouTube will soon start recommending other videos outlining outlandish theories, whilst steering you away from sources that debunk them. Anti-vaxxers have been especially good at harnessing this effect to spread myths and lies about vaccines. There is good evidence that hostile states and dangerous groups such as QAnon have used this tactic in an attempt to spread confusion and mis-information about everything from election results to vaccine side-effects; their motives aren't always clear, but destabilising public confidence in our democratic institutions seems to be one goal.
Could characters in your book be influenced by what they see or read on social media?
End-to-End Encryption and Self-destructing Messages. As mentioned last week, many messaging apps now use End-to-End Encryption. The encoding of messages to make them unreadable if intercepted goes back to ancient times; the Romans and Ninjas of ancient Japan routinely encrypted information before giving it to messengers to deliver. If the message was intercepted by their enemies, then they needed to work out how to decipher it before it was any use. The breaking of the Enigma Code by the Allies during the Second World War started the practise of using computers to break such codes. To counter this, the encoders made their ciphers ever more fiendish, requiring more and more computing power to break them. Despite the exponential increase in processing power over the past few decades, modern encryption is so strong that it would take computers an impractically long time to crack just a single code, especially given the billions of individual encrypted communications sent daily. Therefore the only way for governments etc to peek at an encrypted message is to demand (with a warrant) that the company that supplied the software or app used by the communicators hand over the digital key used to encrypt that message.
End-to-End Encryption has now stymied that. The message is encrypted by the device of the sender, the encoded stream of information transmitted over the internet through the messaging app provider's servers, and then decoded by the receiver's device. At no point does the provider of the messaging app have the keys to decrypt the message. Law enforcement can compel the company that runs the messaging network to hand over the message, but they have no way of decrypting it, and neither does the company. This technology has been a game-changer, for both good and ill. On the one hand, oppressed groups in police states can safely communicate with one another and we can use our mobile phones to pay for items securely or bank safely, but on the other hand, paedophiles, criminals and terrorists can plot and share information with no way for the police to track them.
How could your characters use secure communications? Are the police blocked from accessing valuable intelligence?
Self-destructing messages. Many apps now allow users to stipulate that a message 'self-destruct' after a set time, meaning they permanently disappear. For apps such as Snapchat, this is part of its core functionality. Sometimes it is possible to take a screenshot of the message before it vanishes for good, although the sender may be notified that the screenshot has been taken. Photographing the screen with a second device would circumvent this. Combined with encryption, this makes it extremely difficult for police to retrieve these messages as evidence.
Could your characters use this to plan their skulduggery? What challenges would this pose for your police or victims?
Cyberstalking The willingness of people to share lots of information about themselves publicly has played into the hands of people with dark motives. It is known that paedophiles use social media to harvest innocently-posted pictures of children, which they share with others to feed their fantasies. People who become obsessed with an individual can use social media to build a profile of that person and use it to work out where they live and work, stalking them online; inevitably, some will move off-line and try and make contact in the real world. Again, paedophiles are known to use the classic "standing in front of the fridge in the new school uniform" picture to identify which school a child goes to.
Geotagging is the way that mobile devices automatically add location data to posts. These days, it is a feature that you have to choose to turn on, and rightly so. You may as well just post a large sign outside your house saying "I'm on holiday in Greece, now would be a good time to burgle me." Plenty of fools do choose to turn it on however.
Similarly, many people use apps to track their running or walking. These use the phone's GPS and map features to plot your running routes, which you are then encouraged to share with other users. If you do this in real-time, they provide a helpful way for stalkers to follow you. But even if you don't, instead sharing them after you have completed your exercise, stalkers can learn your regular exercise routes and find a nice, quiet spot to wait for you...
Of even more concern is the use of social media by abusive partners to track down former victims. How many times have you seen a Facebook post imploring you to share the image of a missing person and let the poster know if you see them? These pictures can be spread far and wide, until eventually, a well-meaning person contacts the abuser and confirms where they now live. Unless the plea comes from the police or similar source, don't share. There are many legitimate reasons why a person may go missing, and this can place them in danger. Related to this, Face tagging is the use of Artificial Intelligence by a social media service to identify people appearing in photographs posted by others. In Europe it is turned off as a default. Again, this feature could potentially be used to track down former partners, perhaps by scanning posted images to identify new acquaintances.
Could you use this in your book? What sort of profile might an attacker build of their victim from publicly visible information? Might they use social media to track down a person?
Revenge Porn, recently made a criminal offence in the UK, is the dissemination of intimate images - gained either illicitly or with the subjects agreement - without the person's permission. It is often done to shame the victim and may be triggered by revenge after a break up, an attempt at blackmail, or for the sexual gratification of the poster. It can also be transactional, with the poster selling the images for money or payment in kind, such as using them as a de facto currency with others doing the same. Some closed groups for paedophiles or voyeurs only allow potential abusers to join them if they too share images.
Could this be a motive in your book?
Identity theft/Bank Fraud/Targeted Scams Social media is a gold mine for those wishing to impersonate a person, usually for financial gain. Dates of birth, addresses, full names, even online banking passwords can be gleaned from careless social media usage. Criminals will use a range of different tactics to gain snippets of information from millions of people. Taken in isolation, each of these pieces are of limited use, but the nature of social media is such that all of these pieces of information are indelibly tied to the person who originally posted them and can be pieced together like a jigsaw, until the criminal has everything they need to know about an individual. Even if you are careful not to fully complete your Facebook profile etc, you can still give away a lot of the clues necessary in quizzes etc. Remember this old favourite? Your stripper name is your mother's maiden name followed by the name of your first pet! Congratulations, you've just posted two of the most common questions used in a password reset for your online banking account!
Romance scams involve a criminal identifying somebody who is likely to respond to romantic (or more sordid!) overtures, then convincing them to meet up and, eventually, ripping them off financially. They can use social engineering to convince them that they are a like-minded individual by trawling information in their social media profiles and answers to quizzes. "Oh, you are a big Star Trek fan also, what a coincidence!" "That's my favourite album as well - what do you think of track 3?" "I can't believe were both in Alicante in June 2017, we could have been sitting next to each other in a bar and never even realised (although I'm sure I'd have remembered someone as handsome as you!)"
Could your victim be duped by their attacker using information that they posted online?
Cyber Bullying Bullying has always existed, and human nature is such that it won't be disappearing anytime soon. Years ago, it was possible to escape bullies by leaving the place where you normally interacted with them. Generations of school children have breathed a sigh of relief when they finally made it home from school, leaving their tormentors behind for the day. Unfortunately, the advent of mobile devices that make you always contactable have ended that. Even if you choose not to answer a phone call from a bully, social media applications will typically send you notifications whenever you are mentioned by someone - now you can hear people speaking behind your back. For the always-connected generation, a fear of missing out on legitimate interactions with friends, can make turning off the device difficult, and make turning it back on a source of dread. The practise of bullying a person by posting unkind content that they can see is an example of Trolling and when others join in, this is referred to as a pile-on.
Could cyber bullying be a motive for a crime? Or perhaps a way of identifying potential suspects?
Thank you for reading this far, I hope that you have found this useful. If you want to learn more about specific, non-Facebook-owned social media services, click below to read more.
As always, feel free to comment here or on social media. Come back next week for my Christmas special!
Getting Social - The use of Social Media in your novel (Part 1).
Welcome to this week's #TuesdayTip. For the next two blog posts, I am returning to the use of modern technology in your writing, focusing on Social Media. I previously looked at mobile phone technology (Tips 34 and 35) and these articles can be seen as a companion piece to those posts.
This week, I intend to discuss the pros and cons of using this technology in your book and then, below the cut, bring together a list of some of the more common social media platforms with key facts to help you avoid easy errors. I will be focusing on the Facebook-owned platforms this week.
Next week, I will look at other services such as Twitter etc, as well as more niche apps and darker issues such as End-to-End Encryption and cyber stalking, and the narrative opportunities these present.
Given the rapidly changing nature of this, topic, I may find myself returning to it in the future!
Should you use Social Media in your books? If you are writing modern crime novels, then the chances are you will have to address this issue. Criminals are like any other member of modern society; unless they are especially savvy professionals, they probably stumbled into committing the murder or other heinous act that your book investigates, and so up until then they will likely have been using mobile technology and social media the same way that you or I do.
Leaving aside the massive increase in workload from idiots using Twitter to commit hate crimes etc (which then have to be investigated), social media is becoming more and more useful as an investigative tool to police and intelligence services. Rightly or wrongly, both prosecution and defence lawyers have used interactions on social media in court, especially for cases such as rape that may rest on the believability of the parties involved.
If your story hinges around social media, then it is important to accept that it will date your story to some degree. A book written twenty-years ago with copious references to MySpace, can be somewhat inaccessible to modern readers. Try to avoid that and future-proof your books.
Don't assume that future readers will know what Facebook etc are. There is a fine line between over-explaining what Facebook is for the current reader, and reminding future readers of the inexplicable urge of people in the first three decades of this century to share everything - from what they had for dinner, to their online banking password hints - with total strangers and future world President Mark Zuckerburg. Perhaps slip a few subtle lines into the prose: "Check his Facebook to see if they know each other?" ordered DCI Jones. Hardwick opened the social media app on her computer, pulling up the victim's profile page. She navigated to his Friends List. "Yes, they were friends on Facebook. He liked some of the posts that he shared." There is still a need for the reader to be familiar with the concept behind social media, but even if Facebook suddenly disappears, its ubiquity today is such that hopefully this will be enough to jog memories.
Make sure that the platform existed when your book is set! You may be surprised just how recently they appeared; and often they started as niche applications, only available in the United States.
Make sure that the application had the features you are writing about at that time. The applications and services are constantly being updated and new features introduced. For example, WhatsApp didn't fully implement End-to-End Encryption on all devices until 2016, having started trialling it in late 2014/2015.
Be mindful of the workload on your detectives! Dedicated Social Media Units are becoming more common, but the sheer volume of data from these services is over-whelming, with an increasing backlog in its analysis. How will you match the narrative demands of your story with the need for realism? Could the time taken be used as a means to delay key reveals? If Suspect X and the victim were otherwise unconnected, then somebody stumbling across an online interaction between them halfway through the book could flip your investigation on its head!
Thank you for reading this far. I hope that the information was useful.
Given that you probably came here via a link on social media, I have decided to place the detailed look at different social media platforms below the cut, so feel free to skip if you are short of time.
Next week, I am going to explore End-to-End Encryption and the darker side of social media, such as cyber stalking. I am also going to look at non-Facebook services, such as Twitter and other more niche applications.
Then pop back on Tuesday 22nd for a special Christmas edition...
As always, feel free to comment here or on social media!
Take care, Paul
Click Read More for detailed information on different Social Media Platforms.
Should your characters age as a series progresses? For those of us writing a character over a number of years, this is a question that we eventually have to grapple with. Do you let your main character become older (and perhaps wiser!) as the years go by, or do you keep them in a state of perpetual agelessness, as the world changes around them? It may seem like a bit of an ambitious question early in your career, but it's one that plenty of authors have been forced to consider. Some of my favourite authors have now been writing their protagonists for over twenty years. Since their books are typically set roughly in the time-period that they are published, the forty-something detective they introduced in the series debut will now be in their sixties, potentially stretching the bounds of credibility.
Aging characters realistically can have its advantages though - for example, we see them evolve, hopefully pulling readers along with them as they buy the next book, in part to see how life is treating their literary friends. It can also open up story possibilities. How do they feel about milestone birthdays or retirement? Are they the same person they were ten years ago?
And don't forget your secondary characters - it would seem a bit strange if your main protagonist ages, but their partner or co-workers don't. That can also generate plot-points. Impending retirement of a colleague is a potential way to refresh your series' line-up without bumping people off. If they have kids at the start of the series, have those children flown the nest by book eight? How do they feel about that?
So how have others dealt with this conundrum? 1) Don't age them!Lee Child's behemoth, Jack Reacher, was born in on the 29th October 1960; the latest novel, The Sentinel, was published in 2020 and is clearly set roughly in that time-period. Child recently handed over writing duties to his younger brother, Andrew, with the aim that the character would be updated somewhat for more modern times and continue for a good few more years. Reacher is a remarkable physical specimen, but clearly even he will struggle to take on multiple opponents simultaneously as he enters his seventh or even eighth decade. So in recent years, his ageing appears to have all but stopped. He is more grizzled and experienced than the 36-year-old that left the US Army shortly prior to The Killing Floor, but he now appears to be an indeterminate forty-fifty years old in my mind.
Patricia Cornwell has followed a similar route with her Kay Scarpetta series. Comparing her apparent age with other characters in the series who appear to get older in real-time, it's clear that Scarpetta found the fountain of youth sometime around her mid-forties.
2) Let 'em get older!Michael Connelly started writing his Hieronymus 'Harry' Bosch novels in the nineties. Before joining the LAPD, Bosch served in Vietnam and we know from the books that he was born in about 1950. The recent TV series (worth the subscription to Amazon Prime on its own!), did a soft-reboot so that he fought in the Gulf War, making him late-forties. But in the books, he is now clearly well into his sixties. Typically, he would have aged-out by now, but Connelly decided to have him retire and later books see him working variously as a private investigator or a reserve officer working cases free-lance for the police. Doubtless this never crossed Connelly's mind when he first started writing Bosch thirty years ago, but it really works well.
3) Fudge it!Ian Rankin's DI John Rebus first appeared in 1987. His date of birth is given in the novels as 1947. At first, Rankin had Rebus ageing in real-time but by 2007's Exit Music, it became apparent that he had reached retirement age. Rankin originally intended Rebus' long-term colleague Siobhan Clarke to take over, perhaps with Rebus helping out. But it was suggested to him that there was no law that said he had to continue ageing him realistically, so he brought him back in 2012. On paper, Rebus is 73 now, but in Rankin's mind he is mid-sixties. The world around him, including his beloved Edinburgh, have continued to evolve, but Rebus has largely stopped ageing. Unlike Jack Reacher however, Rebus' years of neglecting his health has caught up with him. He is clearly much older than in the first books and his health has deteriorated recently, but Rankin has no plans to stop writing him, so this hybrid ageing/agelessness will likely continue.
4) Do the Time Warp Another possibility is to go back in time and revisit their early career. Lynda La Plante's Prime Suspect TV series was ground-breaking. Her character Jane Tennison retired at the end of the series run. Assuming that the character was roughly the same age as the actor that played her, Helen Mirren, she would be in her seventies now. La Plante recently went back in time to look at Tennison's early years in the 1970s. Mark Billingham, creator of the popular Tom Thorne, decided to go back to the early nineties in Cry Baby. Although this wasn't written as a way of addressing Thorne's advancing years, if readers enjoy the book it gives Mark a potential direction in years to come.
DCI Warren Jones. Loathe as I am to compare myself to any of the writers listed above, I have had to make decisions regarding Warren Jones and other regulars in my books. Next spring will be the tenth anniversary of when I first set fingers to keyboard on the Warren Jones series. That first novel, The Last Straw, was set in the summer of 2011. Next summer's book is in late 2016, book 8 is likely to be spring 2018. I decided from the start to age Warren in real-time. He is about three years older than me, born on January 3rd 1974 (which you can calculate from the information given in book 2, No Smoke Without Fire) and so he has passed forty since the books started. His wife, Susan, is about 4 1/2 years younger than him, so is looking forward with some trepidation to that milestone. The advantage to me was always clear. Warren in many ways is a thinly disguised version of his creator (wish fulfilment, some might suggest!), so by writing him a similar age, I can draw on my own experience. The disadvantage is that I have potentially built in an end-date for the series. Depending on what happens to public-sector pensions in the wake of the corona virus pandemic, Warren will hit sixty and be eligible to retire in 2034. Since I hope to have closed the gap between when the book is set and when it is published to two to three years, that's looking like a big party for Warren in Summer 2037's book! So what will I do? Let him retire and bring him back as a cold-case investigator? Have him retire and end the series? Kill him off after a massive overdose of caffeine and custard creams? Stop ageing him in real-time, so that he remains ever-youthful, just like his creator? Go back in time and write stories about his early career? Write a spin-off series with other characters, perhaps featuring Warren as a cameo?
I don't know. But if I am still writing Warren in the 2030s, and people are still reading about him, then it's a nice problem to have!
As always, feel free to comment either here or on social media.