Novel Approaches

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

The Maisie Dobbs novels by Jacqueline Winspear grabbed my attention late last year. I thoroughly enjoyed the first one, about a young woman who’s a costermonger’s daughter in England. At 13, she goes into service for a well-to-do family with a heart

Maisie, it turns out, is very smart, and one thing leading to another in a book written for its entertainment value, she gets an education courtesy of the well-to-do family.

World War I intervenes, and Maisie goes off to be a nurse. Since I like my schlocky novels laced with reality, Maisie Dobbs fit the bill.

However, the book I just finished, Elegy for Eddie, is the fifth and probably last book I’ll read in the series.

Winspear’s writing, which has always been stilted at times (who cares what color Maisie’s skirt is), has become even more so. To my ear, her conversations have flattened out, and the main character’s interactions with others feel oh-so-staged.

The thrill is gone, in other words.

In book publishing, authors who write books with series potential get signed to multi-book contracts. This means that an author who starts off with three really good ideas for a character gets pushed to produce six or seven or eleven on the industry’s timetable. Which is why I think Maisie has become a stick in the mud.

Some authors escape this industrial molding. J.K. Rowling’s seven-book Harry Potter series is a good example of this. From the start, Rowling had an over-arching story line. There was always an end to Harry’s adventures. Is that the answer to series burnout?

Alexander McCall Smith’s series of 44 Scotland Street books still feels like it’s-the-very-first-time. But he works on several series simultaneously so he’s not stuck with the same characters and plot conventions book after book. Is this the answer to series burnout?

I think the answer to the staleness issue lies in both of these approaches. So as I continue editing The Road Unsalted while working on the next book in the Carding Chronicles series, this is good to bear in mind. There’s long been a second series in my mind’s eye. I don’t want to get bored now, do I?

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