I’m sure the vast majority of authors strive to improve all the time, each of us seeking to improve on our previous novels. It’s my belief that each of my DI Bliss books has, indeed, improved somewhat on its predecessor – an opinion backed up by many of my readers. On the surface, this makes the next book a daunting prospect, because surely it’s impossible to improve every single time. I can’t think of a single author whose work I enjoy who improves with each successive outing, so for me it’s a matter of managing my own expectations of myself.
My favourite living crime author is Michael Connelly. That’s as true now as it was when I read his first book way back in 1992. And yet, for me, his finest body of work came in a three book run between 1994 and 1996 with The Concrete Blonde, The Last Coyote (both Harry Bosch novels) and The Poet (the first to feature crime reporter Jack McEvoy), which is one of my all-time favourite books. That means it’s almost twenty-five years since Connelly produced his finest pieces of work (in my humble opinion), yet my admiration for his subsequent books remains undimmed. Because, of course, it’s not about the next book topping the one before at all, it’s about maintaining a baseline of consistency across the years.
That is the prism through which I view my own work, especially my DI Bliss series. I regard my forthcoming sixth Bliss novel, Endless Silent Scream, as one of my best all round pieces of writing, though not necessarily the best book of all. And provided I feel that I have achieved that same level of consistency with my work in progress, Slow Slicing, I will appraise it in the exact same way when I am done. You can have already written your best book and yet still entertain, still be successful, still find new readers, still enthral series fans. If you are honest with yourself about your own abilities and standards, and don’t throw something out there simply because it’s due, then you remain faithful to everything that made your work readable in the first place.
Perfection may be unattainable, but striving to improve every time we sit down to write is a shared goal.