|Do I really need an excuse? OK then, Sherlock Holmes was one of the first serially recurring characters in fiction|
Anyone who regularly reads this blog (hi Mum!) will know that as a writer of historical fiction, I love to see people indulging in a bit of Victorian action – whether it’s reviving a forgotten tradition or practice from the time (visiting cards anybody?) or just a new take on a nineteenth-century classic. (Yes, I am enjoying the new series of Sherlock – thanks for asking).
One of the great literary trends of the Victorian period, from Dickens’s Pickwick Papers onwards, was novels published in (usually weekly) instalments in magazines like (Dickens again) Household Words – later All the Year Round. A huge number of today’s classics, from Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone to Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, as well as many of Dickens’s own works, first saw the light of day in the pages of such magazines.
In these times of instant download and speed-reading, it’s often hard to imagine the sort of anticipation and interest each new instalment generated, or the level of delayed gratification the reading public were willing to accept (some of the fatter potboilers, such as GWM Reynolds’s The Mysteries of London, took over two years to finish their run). So can it work again today?
Over the last twenty years or so, a few A-list writers and their publishers have had a stab at resurrecting the form, but it’s never come back into the mainstream. Alexander McCall Smith’s novel 44 Scotland Street was a weekly serial in The Scotsman for six months in 2004, and way back in 1996 Stephen King led the way with The Green Mile which was published in six bite-sized, individually purchasable chunks, appearing monthly. Small press Salt Publishing even adopted the aptly Victorian instalment approach for the e-book version of Niall Boyce’s steampunk romp Veronica Britton: Chronic Detective.