I have heard writers say many times that their motivation for writing a novel is difficult to explain. If so, how much more so when you are actually writing a novel in somebody else’s style and using their characters?
For me with Major Benjy I think the reasons were partly general and partly specific. The general ones were admiration for the writer and a desire that the world should have another “Mapp and Lucia” book to enjoy. Specifically, I wanted to fill in a key gap in the narrative (including the total disappearance without trace of one particular character) and flesh out the supporting cast (an acknowledged issue with Benson’s writing). It’s not for me to say how well I might have succeeded, but thankfully the reviews to date have been very kind.
It is probably worth mentioning a few words about the copyright situation, since I know others may be considering writing sequels to well known books or series. The rule in the UK at the moment is that copyright runs for 70 years from the end of the year of death; thus Benson, who died in 1940, goes out of copyright in the UK at the end of 2010. Not in the US, though, since they have a different rule which operates for 95 years from the date of publication of the work, and there is currently much discussion about the US rules being adopted in Europe (but no word on what might happen to books which would fall into a hole (i.e. would have gone out of copyright and then would apparently go back into it) if that were done. This is an important point since I know many enthusiasts like to write fan fiction and post it on the net. This is actually in breach of copyright and you are putting yourself at risk should the relevant estate choose to do anything about it.
For my part, though my written agreement covers only Major Benjy, there is a gentleman’s agreement with the estate that I will also be writing two more: Lucia on Holiday and Au Reservoir. However that can only happen if Major Benjy is a success. Nobody (not even Picnic!) is going to publish a book which is unlikely to be commercially successful, so please run out on 1st September and order it (preferably supporting your local bookshop in the process).
In my fourth and last post, I will be telling you about my new narrative history of the Plantagenet family, the infamous “devil’s brood” who ruled England for three and a half centuries, but spent most of their time fighting amongst themselves.