I never planned to write a trilogy.
Actually, I never planned to write a sequel either. Actually finishing and getting Europe in Autumn published was a big enough thing for me. I’ve been used to my stuff coming out and being read by maybe a few hundred people and quietly sort of sifting its way down to the bottom of the fish tank, and to be honest I was happy enough with that, I never really expected much from what was sometimes satirically referred to as my ‘career’.
But Autumn did better than I could ever have dreamed. It was well-reviewed and well-received, it picked up nominations. It’s in its second edition now, which is unheard of for me, and it’s probably sold more than all my other stuff put together. Which raised the question of what to do next.
People who’ve read Autumn will know that the ending is kind of open/abrupt, depending on your point of view. That wasn’t deliberate; I tried for ages to think up a better ending and eventually had to give up. But it left room for a follow-up, which was handy because I had some stuff left over from Autumn.
As I got to the end of putting Autumn together, it occurred to me that there was stuff I hadn’t tackled – the nature of the Community, in particular, who they were, what they wanted. I’d managed to shoehorn in a brief visit, but it was kind of an elephant in the room, and it was nagging me. Also, after Autumn came out I was rearranging all my folders and I found a chapter I’d written some considerable time before and forgotten about. No, I’m not going to tell you which one it is.
So I had some material and I had a yen to write a follow-up. But I didn’t want to write a straight sequel. I’m not entirely sure what to call Europe at Midnight, but I was trying to explain it to someone and he said, “Oh, right. It’s a spinoff. Like Frasier.” And I rather like that. Europe at Midnight is kind of a sequel, and you’ll understand how if you read it, but what it is, mostly, is a spinoff. And Europe in Winter is the sequel to both Autumn and Midnight.
Which is nice and confusing.
It also let me indulge myself, because I’ve always wanted to write a proper le Carré/Deighton espionage novel. I’d sort of used the paraphernalia of espionage in Autumn, stuff about dead-drops and brush-passes and so on, but I wanted to set something actually in the espionage world, and so we have Jim, a youngish MI5 officer in a Europe that’s still refiguring, and we have Rupert, who’s kind of an alternate Jim. I also wanted to deal with the Xian Flu in a little more depth, because I thought I’d glossed over it a bit in Autumn, so I did, and it wound up being more important than I’d planned. And so on and so forth.
I also wanted to redress a failure in Europe in Autumn. A few people have come up to me since it was published and pointed out that there aren’t a lot of women in it. And that’s true; I think there are only two female characters, and more to the point there are several other characters who didn’t have to be male. I just defaulted to male because, to be honest, I’m a bloke and I don’t write female characters very well. Which is a pretty piss-poor excuse. It’s something I’m working on, now I recognise the failing in my writing; I don’t expect I’ll get things right straight away, but I’m trying, and there are at least more female characters in Midnight. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.
Oh, and the title. I sort of painted myself into a corner calling the first one Europe in Autumn because the logical title for the follow-up would be Europe in Winter, which would mean the third book being called Europe in Spring, and I didn’t want that. The whole tone of the books is kind of autumnal, it’s a Europe where the leaves are falling and there’s frost at night. Spring holds out the promise of rebirth, of regeneration, and that’s not the tone I wanted. It was originally called Community. Then it was called A Song For Europe. Then it was called Community again. And finally it wound up as Europe at Midnight. It’s a reference to ‘the midnight of the century,’ as the outbreak of the Second World War is sometimes called; it also has a sort of noir, Third Man feel which I like.
Midnight comes out on November 5. It’d be nice if it does as well as Europe in Autumn. Mostly, I just hope people enjoy it.