In the library of the University where I used to work there was an intriguing copy of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. As I’m sure you know, Dickens’ final novel was unfinished when he died and so the mystery of who killed the unfortunate Mr Drood has remained precisely that, a mystery. However, in 1980 Leon Garfield, a children’s author who specialised in writing novels set in the Dickensian period, was asked to complete the book and this was the copy I found tucked away in the library. Of course, he wasn’t the first, nor the last author to attempt to solve Dickens’ mystery but of all the completions I think his is the best, certainly it is the one where you are least likely to notice the join.
Recently, there has been quite a spate of individual books or whole series being either completed or continued after the death of the author, in three cases by members of the original writer’s family. A couple of weeks ago I heard a discussion on the radio about this with Felix Francis and Samantha Norman. Francis, son of Dick Francis, has always had a part to play in his father’s crime novels. At first he helped with the research, then, as his father’s health failed, with the writing itself. Now, following his father’s death, he has taken over the series completely, even though Dick Francis’s name remains on the cover. Samantha Norman is the daughter of Diana Norman who, as Ariana Franklin, wrote a series of four books about Adelia Aguilar, Henry II’s Mistress of the Art of Death. When Franklin died very suddenly in 2011 she left a novel unfinished and her daughter has now completed this. Winter Siege will be published early next year and I hope it will prove to be another in the Adelia series as number four left one of her main character hanging between life and death, skewered on a medieval spear. I was actually very annoyed about this at the time because I don’t think you leave your readers with that sort of cliffhanger at the end of a book. It felt too much as if it were being written with television serialisation in mind. If this novel is part of Adelia’s story then I hope that Ms Norman has offered the reader a completed narrative. Unless, that is, she intends to take the series further still herself.
And now, today, comes news that the brilliant fantasy writer, Diana Wynne Jones, left a manuscript unfinished at her death and this has now been completed by her sister. Wynne Jones was working on the manuscript for The Islands of Chaldea when she became too ill to continue. Her agent felt that there was enough material already in existence for it to be possible for it to be brought to completion and offered Diana’s sister, Ursula, first shot at it. The resulting novel is another due for publication in 2014 and I feel more concerned about this than I do about the Samantha Norman book. I love Wynne Jones and the thought of anyone, even her sister, who is an established writer, tampering with her work leaves me decidedly uneasy. I would love there to be an unpublished Wynne Jones. I would love there to be several. But I would prefer that they were authentic Wynne Jones and I’m not sure that I shall read this when it comes out. It seems that I can face the thought of the completion of a work by an author I have merely enjoyed, but when it comes to one that I love I want the real thing or nothing. Am I alone in this? Will you grab at anything, any scrap, however small, if it comes from you favourite writer or is the notion of their work coming to you diluted in some way a sacrilege too far?