I hope you’re ready for another barrage of articles about the new Stieg-Larsson-Not-Stieg-Larsson, because they’re queuing up like full bladders at a music festival Portaloo. But first, at the risk of incontinence, I would myself like to discuss the marketing phenomenon that is ‘Continuation Fiction’.*
In the world of Continuation Fiction, the characters live on, even if the authors don’t. Or indeed, if the authors couldn’t be bothered. Or even sometimes if they can be bothered, but don’t want to be.
Let us begin, brethren, with a parable.
There once were once some stories of recognisable hues. They wowed punters far and wide. They sold in droves. They made publishers happy.
“Give us more!” decreed said publishers. “We want more of the exact same thing, only make it different enough to fool readers into thinking they warrant a new purchase.”
And the authors cried: “But Masters! We are so over this character… And besides, we have not the time! We couldn’t possibly give you something good by the deadline you preach!”
Some more authors wept: “And we cannot do it at all, for we are altogether dead!”
“We don’t care!” yelled the publishers. “Just find someone to churn out any old shite, and let us worry about the inevitable backlash after we’ve packaged the dross, and pocketed the dosh!”
And the authors cried some more, yet duly did as ordered, wiping their tears with £100 notes (and brightening up considerably therewith).
But not the dead authors. They did not weep or wipe, and neither did they receive any currency of practical use in the afterlife. They simply watched, in stony bitterness, as appointed successors exhumed their characters, and butchered their oeuvre.
THE END (or is it?)
Apart from Stieg Larsson, who in death and irony is about to enjoy the 4th instalment of his Millennium Trilogy as written by a complete stranger, there have been many cases of the more literal meaning of ghost writing. (I can see the tagline on the publishing pitch: CONTINUATION FICTION: FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN CASH AFTER DEATH.) Virginia Andrews, PG Wodehouse, Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie, amongst others, have also endured this dubious honour.
On another note, Harper Lee did herself write Go Set A Watchman. But what’s the difference, in the context of Continuation Fiction, between a rights-owning publisher appointing a new author to write someone else’s book, and a rights-owning publisher putting out a book an author never intended to be published?
There is also what I’ve decisively decided to call “Concept Fiction”: where the mere thought that a successful author had an idea can sell books.
The most prolific user/abuser of Concept Fiction must be James Patterson, whose books almost always have an “&” after his name nowadays. He only needs to lend his name to an idea for it to be turned into a full-length novel by co-authors (or Orwellian novel-writing machines, I’m never sure). And yet he’s still raking it in, so it obviously works.
I believe there are other ways of paying tribute to an author’s work which can be far more interesting. Some, for instance, have chosen to expand on a concept, rather than replicate it.
Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea was a 1966 imagining of the backstory for Mr Rochester’s first wife, the madwoman in the attic of Jane Eyre. In the 2001 novel Rebecca’s Tale, Sally Beauman imagined that Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca might have had sinister reasons for the actions she took just before she died. These examples also show how an author can belatedly lend some of the world’s most famous characters a voice, who otherwise had none (despite their infamy).
Look – there’s no question that if a winning formula is found, the sensible and profitable thing to do is make more of it. Having said that, there are far too many good books out there to be bothering with ones being flogged to death by publishers long after the party’s over.
*Note: not to be confused with Continuity Fiction, nor indeed The Real Fiction.
SUPER EXTRA BONUS FACT!!!
It’s a little-known piece of trivia that EL James’ Fifty Shades novels were in fact co-written by a “Preemptory Fiction” Team comprising Stephenie Meyer, a fifteen-year-old boy with acne, and six nuns who once saw a porn film in 1978. However, Grey, the latest instalment, was actually written by James herself, in a shock reversal of the standard literary rip-off. This is completely true and I defy you to prove otherwise.
You Don’t Get Off That Easily: Time For A Quiz
Do you feel like standing up for Continuation Fiction? Yes? Tell me why and who, and you will appear nowhere in my pending piece on “Incontinence Fiction”.