Calypso Bergère Mysteries

Beginning a fiction series: form and structure

Paris bookshop

The novella has never been a very popular form. It’s usually seen as a kind of in-between fiction, neither long enough to allow for satisfying character development and plotting of the novel, nor brief enough to provide the concentrated impact of the short story. But it’s a form that I’ve always enjoyed and at its best it can combine something of the complexity of the novel with the economy of the short story.

The ratings and reviews for the first three books in the Calypso Bergère mystery series have been very good, much better than I hoped for, and I am more than grateful  to the readers who took the time to leave feedback on Amazon and Good Reads. A comment that came up more than once was that the stories were short, perhaps too short. Leaving aside the fact that it’s always good to leave your readers wanting more, I thought it was worth explaining why I decided to begin the series with three novellas rather than a standard-length novel.

Beginning a fiction series with three novellas is certainly unusual. The advice from established writers is that, with certain rare exceptions, it takes three, four, or even five books before a series achieves any degree of success. I have a day job and write in my spare time. Add to that that I’m not an especially fast writer. Writing and publishing three full-length novels would have taken me quite some time. Why not, I thought to myself, introduce the series with three shorter books, which I could produce in the same time as a novel, and which would give me a chance to explore the protagonist and setting in three different stories? The benefit for readers would be that they could try a short read before deciding whether the series was for them. I was thinking television episodes rather than feature films at this point.

As it turned out, I was sadly mistaken about the time involved: writing three novellas took me a lot longer than writing a single novel would have done. I’ve also learned, though deep down I think I already knew it, that the novella is a tricky form to pull off (and I’m not arrogant enough to think I was wholly successful). But though the exercise was challenging it was also great fun. My wish and my hope is that these three short books give readers a greater insight into Calypso and her world than a single book may have done.

So with the first three books in the series published, what’s next? I’m now working on the first full-length novel in the series. After that, I think there will be another novel, for which I have the ghost of an idea, and then I’d like to try some novellas again. Each of these, whether long or short in form, will function as a standalone story as well as an episode of a life story. There will be recurring characters and some overarching plot lines. In other words, I want Calypso to be around for a long time yet. The series opens in 1931, when she is eighteen years old. My current plan is that it will finish in 1945, at the end of the Second World War, with France liberated and a new world to be built from the ashes of the old. That’s the plan, anyway. Let’s see how it goes.