Even before Ghostbird is published, I’m well on my way to finishing the first draft of Book the Second. The internet is littered with articles warning me how scary, fraught and downright cursed it’s likely to be. I have recently discovered Second Novel Syndrome and apparently it’s an actual thing: a condition afflicting even the most successful writers. (Hard to imagine A S Byatt wondering if The Shadow of the Sun was it.)
Before I received the offer for Ghostbird I was happily writing my new story because I wanted to. It has been quietly gathering momentum for almost a year. I was under no duress and there were no expectations. Now it’s real – I’m going to be published – and inevitably there will be a certain expectation of a second book. It’s daunting but then again, it’s only me and no one is waiting with actual bated breath for my follow-up are they?
If people read your first book and like it, they’re almost certainly going to want to read your second one. And judge it. I know I have to be careful and not mess it up.
I never saw myself as a ‘successful author.’ (Those of us who suffer from arrested development don’t.) Frankly, I read far too many brilliant books to kid myself. My literary sheroes include Edna O’Brien, Susan Hill & Maggie O’Farrell. Most of the time I read exhilarating literary fiction that makes my heart sing. I read writers who, if you cut them open, they would bleed words. Fame is not the goal. Acceptance is. That’s what being published means to me & what keeps me writing.
All at once there is less time to devote to the second novel. I’m learning fast that there is more to being published than simply writing a book & securing an offer for it. Behind the scenes lies an entirely different process: one I must be open to & respectful of.
I don’t want to become a bully either: hassling myself to get the second book finished. If I don’t enjoy it, what’s the point? I do have a head start. The first draft is almost done but what if I become complacent or insecurity convinces me it’s rubbish? What if I take a wrong turn or the premise of the story begins to look less appealing?
When I began it, I thought this second book was a far cry from Ghostbird. It has an utterly different kind of main protagonist and yet even so, as it takes shape I find myself wondering if maybe, after all, I am saying the same things. There are clear similarities – I’m writing in a related vein & exploring comparable themes. The landscape possesses an echo of Ghostbird. Have I managed to find new and different ways to lay these familiar motifs before my readers? It matters. I don’t want to be a one-trick turn.
Within my new story I seek a different voice. Not my writing voice – that’s pretty much set now. It’s her voice I still wrestle with, the voice of my central character. She is a different generation from the main character in Ghostbird and although I have a good deal more in common with her, I still have to find that elusive something that sets her apart and will make people care about her.
Cracking on then… see where I go & when I get to the end, where I’ve landed.
Or as Dorothy Parker once said, “Time doth flit; oh shit.”