Adventures in writing a spin-off with Charlene Newcomb

I’m delighted to welcome to the blog Charlene Newcomb, aka Char who  writes historical fiction and science fiction. Her Battle Scars trilogy is set in the 12th century during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. It’s filled with war, political intrigue, and a knightly romance of forbidden love. All three books are indieBRAG Medallion honorees; Book II is a Historical Novel Society Editors’ Choice, a finalist in the Chaucer Awards for pre-1750 Historical Fiction, and received an Honorable Mention from Writer’s Digest.

While medieval historical fiction has her under its spell at the moment, her writing roots are in the Star Wars Expanded Universe (now known as Legends) where she published her first short story in 1994 in the Star Wars Adventure Journal. She published a scifi/space opera, Echoes of the Storm, which was awarded 1st in category in the Chanticleer International Book Awards in 2021.

A retired librarian and US Navy veteran, Char spends most of the year in Louisiana, but escapes summer heat and humidity visiting family in Washington and Colorado.

Over to Char to tell us about the perils and pleasures of writing spinoffs!

What possessed me to write a spin-off of my Battle Scars series? I can’t name a single writer who hasn’t fallen in love with the main characters of their novels. And I’m guessing that, like me, a secondary character captured their attention as bits of their backgrounds were doled out. Was there more to their stories? (Ha! Let’s not mention Aurelia…)

Spin-offs don’t have to unfold at the same place or time as an original novel, but a real plus for me were the settings—mainly Nottingham and Sherwood, York and Lincoln. These places were like home. I knew them, had ‘lived’ them through two of my three Battle Scars books. My research had included books, articles and digital resources about medieval culture, society, food, knights, warfare, the famous and the infamous and more. I had notes and links galore if I needed to revisit any topics.

Rogue is my first full length novel that ‘stars’ characters I created for Battle Scars. In that series, I hinted at a Robin Hood origin story when I introduced a knight named Robin du Louviers. He was an expert archer and had been in love with a girl named Marian. Other characters from the legend found their way into the series as my original short story grew to three books.

Though Robin was a secondary character, he had significant roles throughout the original series. His actions there—becoming an enemy of future King John—form a backdrop for Rogue.

Along with Robin, the other main character of Rogue is his estranged son Robert, who I had introduced as a boy in Battle Scars II. The spin-off novel is as much Robert’s story as Robin’s, if not more.

Continuity is very critical in a book series, and no less critical in any related spin-offs. After ‘living’ with Robin through three books, you’d think I could remember everything he did, how he acted, how he looked, and important events in his life. Ha!

Like many writers of series, I started a series ‘bible’ while writing book two of Battle Scars. It includes characters’ physical appearances, relationships, their horses’ names/colors, major events in their lives, even noting which book referenced that detail. I often included quotes from a passage so I could find it again in context.  I also maintain a spreadsheet with timelines of events, birth/death/marriage dates, parents’ names, siblings, and relationship to other characters. (Ah, another spreadsheet lover…)

I referred back to the character templates and spreadsheet dozens of times. As detailed as I thought I’d been, my methods haven’t been foolproof.

While working on Rogue, I quickly discovered I needed information I hadn’t tracked. For example, I knew that by the time of King Richard’s death in 1199, Marian and young Robert were living in Yorkshire. But had they gone the same year? I went digging for those nuggets in two books. (No, they didn’t. The dates are recorded now!) Marian and Robin had a daughter, too. What year was she born? (It was in the spreadsheet, but I had to look it up there, along with the age of Little John’s son. Oooooh – there’s another story there.) These are little details that might get mentioned once in 370+ pages, but a thousand curses on me if I get it wrong.

I’m not certain it would have been easier if the spin-off began within a year or two of Robin’s last appearance in Battle Scars III, but because I had a brilliant idea (at least I thought so) for the ending of Rogue the setting is about 17 years later. Robin is in his 50s. In addition to the history I’d established for him through the end of King Richard’s reign in 1199, I had to know details of the 17+ years of King John’s reign, even if they weren’t mentioned in the new book. (By the way, the brilliant ending idea got shelved for future use.)

The same was true of Robin’s son, Robert. Because of his age in Battle Scars, Robert had much less ‘history’ than Robin and had a limited role in those novels. He was much easier to deal with than his father, except for his stubborn streak. 🙂 By 1216 in Rogue, Robert is a knight with significant battle experience. Then it was a matter of crafting his history and keeping those notes in Scrivener. Where had he served, with whom, and would he have crossed paths with others from his past, or with King John? And when had he last been to Yorkshire to see his parents?

Is there a peril writing a spin-off of a secondary character, when the main characters (MCs) in the original are so beloved? I relegated those MCs to minor roles in Rogue. Did a beta reader have to remind me that the spin-off was NOT their story?  (That’s a yes, she did.)

Did I set readers’ expectations in Battle Scars that Robin would end up in Sherwood Forest? [Spoilers ahead]: In Rogue, Robin is not in the forest, and he’s not the leader of the outlaw gang. He may yet end up there, but my spin-off is approaching the legend of Robin Hood from a different angle and I hope it doesn’t disappoint. (It doesn’t!)

Bottom line:

  • Spin-offs should stand alone.
  • Great care must be taken with backstory. (Of course, that’s true of any work.) The history/character backstory must be easily understood by individuals who have not read the original as it is woven into the new novel.
  • Continuity and consistency are key.

Char has nailed this with this excellent post. Interlinking the Roma Nova thrillers has caused me a few headaches but been resolved by similar methods. Char’s tips are invaluable.


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What’s Rogue about?

A knight sworn to keep a family secret.
A king who seeks revenge.
A daring plan to save one life…or condemn many.

England, AD 1216. Sir Robert Fitzwilliam faithfully serves the English crown, but when the outlaw Allan a Dale, a childhood friend, is captured and thrown in the sheriff’s dungeons beneath Nottingham Castle, trouble is certain to follow.

Allan’s days are numbered. Nothing would please King John more than to see an old nemesis hanged. Nothing except watching Robert’s estranged father, Robin, dangling dead from a rope beside him.

When his father joins forces with the Hood gang to rescue Allan, enlisting the aid of friends and even the girl he loves, Robert must decide where his loyalties lie.

Before there was Robin Hood, there was Allan of the Hood. You know their story – in Sherwood Forest, they rob from the rich and give to the poor. Rogue is a retelling of the origins of the Robin Hood legends set during a time of a rebellion and invasion near the end of King John’s reign. It’s a thrilling adventure of loyalty, love, sacrifice, spies, and intrigue.

Buy Rogue here:
It’s on a special offer until 26 August, so just under 48 hours to buy it with a 50% reduction!


My review of Rogue 4.5 ⭐️

I loved this new take on the Robin Hood legend! Instead of going over old, too familiar ground (apologies to Kevin Costner and the late wonderful Alan Rickman), Charlene Newcomb has come up with an imaginative original treatment of a story we think we know.

The whole ‘Robin Hood’ legend skates on very dubious ice. It’s a quasi romantic story we’d all love to have happened. In Rogue, the author offers us a realistic, gritty, but totally believable alternative. As an experienced novelist she knows how to develop characters; although very much within their lived context, we recognise them as people like us. Only it’s much more dangerous when they lived.

Newcomb demonstrates that she knows these places – Nottingham, Lincoln, York; she’s obviously been there. Her research is thorough, but it never impacts on the characters’s stories and emotions, but is carefully, almost unnoticeably, woven into the narrative. 

And doesn’t she throw conflict at her characters! Robin guilty yet defiant, Robert angry but caring, Allan cheeky but fatalistic, Joanna careful but tempted. And then there’s the senior generation of Marian and Little John and characters from the Battle Scars series, Henry and Stephan, providing strong support.

This new telling of an old story will throw out pre-conceived ideas, but will give you in return a cracking reinterpretation.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series.Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA, a new Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines and taste world the latest contemporary thriller Double Identity… Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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