The Life and Death of Dani Lancing
I am not going to lie (at least not this early on), when I began The Last Winter of Dani Lancing there was no master plan for a larger body of work.
As the story grew, they became real for me: Patty, the mother and Jim the father and Tom the boyfriend – they were the trinity of the pained and above them all is Dani. Poor Dani Lancing. As I wrote, and put my characters through the grinder of crises, twists and obsessions – I began to think of the story as having a wider arc.
I had been told, by the crime writer Sue Walker, that I should create an entire life for my characters. I should know their birth date and where they were from – when they had their first kiss and who their parents were. I took this advice to heart and for The Last Winter of Dani Lancing (TLWODL) I created the entire life story for Dani and Tom Bevans… then I did the same for Patty and Jim Lancing.
Patty Lancing is a crime journalist and I began to create a career for her and populate her office with awards she has won and the two true crime books she had written. Then I plotted out those books. The first one was a book of interviews with women who had been involved with crime. I included a scene from that in TLWODL, where Patty tracks down Sonia Sutcliffe a week after her husband is unmasked as the Yorkshire Ripper.
The second book I created for her, I called The Ugly Man and I planned that story out too. Later, after I had finished TLWODL, I wrote the story of The Ugly Man so I could spend more time with Patty – and a Patty who existed before the horror of Dani’s murder.
As I wrote, I became more and more fascinated with her. The Ugly Man is totally her story and shows her brilliance, her humanity and her resilience.
I then looked to the career I had created for Tom Bevans. When we meet him in TLWODL, he has risen through the police ranks to the height of Detective Superintendent with his own serious crimes unit: Operation Ares. The remit of his team is to investigate sexually motivated murders with multiple victims. So (I thought) how did his career develop?
The Sad Man novella details the case that made him – set in 1999 (ten years after Dani’s death and more than ten years before TLWODL) Tom is a Family Liaison officer stuck in a rut and unable to get promotion – until he solves a shocking murder: a woman is bled dry and her blood used to create angel wings beneath her.
At that stage I had a completed novel and two background novellas (not published yet). It could have stopped there but thoughts were buzzing around in my head. I was also, at this point, talking to two television companies about adapting TLWODL, and both of them were interested in – what happens next? Now, I love how TV storylines can arc over 13-22 episodes (in the US) and something like Breaking Bad will come back to an idea from two seasons before, without killing the idea with re-capping all that happened. I spent some time talking with Arika Mittman – head writer on Dexter, and she wanted to know how the finale of TLWODL will affect Patty, Jim and Tom. And I did too, as I had spent so long with these characters and had imagined their futures. So I let myself carry on with them and plotted two more novels and two novellas. For the second novel Dani is not the centre of the story. The book emotionally looks at how Patty can cope with finally having her twenty year obsession taken away – and how she has to get herself another murdered young woman to avenge. Also Tom must look at himself in the cold light of day, and decide what kind of man he is – what kind of policeman he can be.
Of course writing a novel is very different to TV writing and novels generally need to stand-alone. This is one of the problems I have with the ways in which series often develop in crime writing. When a book ends – it ends. Girl or boyfriends picked up at the end of one book are gone by the next. Emotional scars heal as easily as physical ones and there is no baggage.I wish that were true in real life. I find that we just build and build emotional baggage. That was what I wanted to do with these three books (and four novellas) heap on the emotional baggage and regrets to see how the characters buckle or stand under the weight of it. I love novels but I also love comic-books and TV and both of those (especially comics) are much more free in creating universes of characters, interweaving fates and keeping the pressure on characters. So what did I do?
The second book in the trilogy (a trilogy of 3 novels and 4 novellas) I am calling The Life and Death of Dani Lancing is: Summer of Ghosts (available now). This takes Patty, Jim and Tom further into the emotional grinder and challenges them in new ways. Whereas the first book was very intricate and dealt with how a single act of violence ripples through a family for so many years; Summer of Ghosts places the same characters into a world where violence is casual and human life is cheap.
I wanted, with book two, to look at a truly criminal world – that of drug gangs who defend their territory with extreme violence. I also wanted to pull a minor character from TLWODL and put them to the fore of the second book. Franco, who is an 18-year-old gang boss in book one (who helps Tom find Dani) is now 39 and desperate to get out alive.
The visceral violence of his world meshes with the emotional no-man’s land of Patty and Tom’s world to throw every character into a landscape they are uncomfortable with. At the end of the book, Franco’s story is done but there is an explosive revelation for Patty and Jim that drag them right back into the hell of Dani’s death.
The two novels and novellas are available now. They are free to download for Kindle or ebook or as a PDF file.
Both novels can be bought online.
And the future: The third and final novel, at the moment called The Fall of Hope, will end Dani’s story and will be released alongside two novellas. The first novella – The Lost man, takes place within the same timescale as Summer of Ghosts and gives the reader an alternative viewpoint and the final novella – The Cowardly Man is the story of Jim and Dani and why their bond is so strong.
I hope that when all the components are done, that a single volume or collection can be released with each piece in the right order, so that a reader can have the entire scope of the story in one long read – but we shall see.
I also wrote a short story a while ago, on the 25th anniversary of Dani’s death. You can read it here.