9780733632228-196x300Last year I joined forces with five other authors to bring you a series of blog posts on different aspects of our writing lives. Today we’re teaming up again to celebrate the release of Dawn Barker’s new book, Let Her Go, and to talk about our experiences of writing second novels.

Back in the days when I worked for a major London publishing house, ‘second novel syndrome’ was a well-known phenomenon. Authors would often sign two-book contracts based on the delivery of an outstanding debut novel, and publishers would wait with tightly held breath for the delivery of the subsequent book. There was one question on their minds: was this author a one-hit wonder or a career novelist? Upon delivery, the first reading would be a hasty and tense affair, and I can still remember the looks of relief on a publisher’s face if their investment was ratified, and the agony if it wasn’t.

Years later, my first ‘two book’ publishing contract coincided with my first baby. As a result, I ended up writing most of Beneath the Shadows in the first six months of my daughter’s life. If I’d thought second book syndrome was scary, it had nothing on first-time motherhood! It was a rather intense ride, not helped by the fact this was my first experience of writing to a publisher’s deadline, with a publication date already penned in before the first draft was complete.

However, I was lucky in that my second novel was actually my first. I had begun writing Beneath the Shadows some years before Come Back to Me, and I already had about twenty thousand words before my new idea took over. Therefore, I had a good foundation on which to build when I returned to this ‘second’ book.

BENEATH THE SHADOWSBeing aware of the curse of the second novel also did me a few favours. It made me work harder from the get-go to try to avoid the pitfalls. By then I was aware that I was writing for a readership, and that I was entering a new realm where people could begin to compare my work and decide if I was progressing or stagnating. However, Beneath the Shadows brought fresh experiments in plot, structure and narrative goals, and I found the experience of writing it as exhilarating and excruciating as every other book.

Now that I’m working on the final part of my fourth novel, I realise that no book will ever be easy for me to write, and nor should they be. If I get too comfortable I take it as a warning sign that something is going wrong. The aim is always to craft a world so compelling that it leaps from my mind onto the page and rebounds into the imagination of the reader.  In the end, every story is a fresh chance and a new challenge.

Many congratulations, Dawn, on the release of Let Her Go. You have worked so hard and deserve every moment of celebration. I, for one, cannot wait to read it.

Find out more about my fellow writers’ experiences of producing their second novels:

Dawn Barker: …magical things happened while writing this book that weren’t so prominent with my first. The writing process felt more natural, more organic.

Amanda Curtin: I wasn’t conscious then of specific ‘second novel’ pressure; I was too busy coming to grips with what I was trying to do conceptually and narratively with Elemental

Annabel Smith: People always talk about how difficult it is to get a debut novel published; no one ever talks about how difficult it is with a second. But it was really really difficult.

Emma Chapman: I feel terribly lucky to have the opportunity to share my work and get feedback from qualified, trusted members of the publishing industry.



9780857982919There’s a new book in the shops this month that gives you three nail-biting suspense stories for the price of one, and it includes my very own Come Back to Me. Find it in all good ANZ bookstores and online at Booktopia, Bookworld, The Nile, or your online e-tailer of choice!col-md-2

Cherry Bomb

Nina Dall is one half of Sydney pop-punk band The Dolls. Have they got what it takes to stay on top or are they just a one hit wonder? Told through the eyes of a young singer who’s seen it all, CHERRY BOMB is celebrated rock journalist Jenny Valentish’s debut novel – a wild ride into Australia’s music scene.

It’s a pleasure to welcome Jenny Valentish to my blog. I was lucky enough to see an early draft of Cherry Bomb and it was clear this book was going to be something special. The novel will be released by Allen & Unwin in July, but if you order here or enter the give-away below, you could be one of the first to get your hands on a copy! Read on to find out more about Jenny and her inspiration for the life and times of Nina Dall.

Cherry Bomb is your first novel – congratulations! What inspired you to write it?

Well, we’ve unwittingly kicked off with a heavy question! I actually wanted to write about childhood sexual abuse within a broader context – in this case, a band trying to make it in the music industry. That may sound pithy in the extreme, but my aim was to write about a tough subject in the most accessible way possible. As a journalist who’s written a lot for women’s and teen magazines over the years, I’ve been frustrated that sexual abuse, which affects one in three women (according to CASA), is put in the too-hard basket. Or perhaps it’s the ‘nobody will buy that’ basket. In Cherry Bomb, the issue is raised quite briefly, but you then see the sort of chaotic trajectory the protagonist grows up to embark on and the preconceptions she has of people and situations – preconceptions that are quite different to that of her cousin in the band, Rose. This plotline isn’t announced anywhere on the cover (see: the ‘nobody will buy that’ basket), but it’s an important part of what drives Nina Dall.

What did you enjoy most about the writing process?

I’ve never had this experience before, but it seemed as though I was constantly being handed all the material I needed. I’d walk down a street and hear a snippet of conversation that was relevant – perhaps even one word – or hear a meaningful song, or catch a glimpse of something that turned out to signify a missing piece of plotline. I put it down to intense focus, almost like a year-long state of hypnosis.

 Now that Cherry Bomb is about to reach the shelves, are you working on anything else at the moment?

Yes – I’m in that excited, honeymoon phase again. This time it’s a noirish crime novel with a much slower pace and no hidden agendas. It’s about as different as can be, actually. Publishers love that, right?

What has been the most exciting part of your publication journey so far?

I would say my first coffee meeting with my publisher-to-be, Jane Palfreyman at Allen and Unwin. After I’d had a few rejections from agents, she told me everything I wanted to hear. I felt like putting out a press release: ‘Publisher gets it’.

J valentish long-2What insight did your experience as a music journalist give you into the story of Nina and Rose Dall?

I’ve written for everything from guitar mags to music technology titles to street press to the NME to glossies (I edited Triple J’s magazine for four years), so those experiences informed much of the book – like accompanying bands on TV shows, on tour buses, in studios, to radio stations, etc. But I also quizzed my tour manager boyfriend and friends from record companies, and drew on my couple of years as a music publicist, and of being in a few bands myself, and finally, got someone who’d been a pop artist signed to a major record company to check the finished manuscript.

 Did you hit any roadblocks while you were writing Cherry Bomb? If so, how did you get over them?

Yes, I am an impatient person, so I sent half the manuscript to you to read at the three-month mark, and the whole thing to MJ Hyland at around six months. I chose to get feedback from established writers because I’d never taken a creative writing class and considered this approach to be a crash course.

At this point I realised I needed to do some serious restructuring – or, more accurately, I realised I needed a structure. Everything’s got a structure, I thought – we learned that in chemistry class – but apparently commercial novels need to have a special structure. I have a Word doc called ‘Removed’ with about 60,000 words in it that are cut scenes. I got rid of the first three chapters on the advice of an agent, so that the book starts with action rather than backstory.

A good way to restructure without getting hopelessly lost – and this is the advice of MJ Hyland – is to write out the key scenes in each chapter in just a short sentence each. So under each chapter heading you’ll have perhaps six sentences. Then you colour each sentence according to which character or topic it relates to – so the protagonist might be all in red, for example. The result is a document in which you can easily see the narrative arcs of each character or topic. That saved me.

What else are you feeling passionate about right now?

The current non-writing project is finding a bigger property with a dam or two, so I can add non-edible alpacas, pigs and donkeys to the portfolio of rabbits and chickens.

I love book recommendations. Can you tell me about one book you have loved in the past year?

Funemployed by Justin Heazlewood (Affirm Press). He uses himself as a case study and interviews many other established musicians, including Tim Rogers and Sarah Blasko, about the difficulty of making a living in Australia as an artist.

And what are you looking forward to reading this year?

I’m actually going to work through Andrew McGahan’s back catalogue. I grew up in the UK, so I missed out.

Finally, where can people go to find out more about you and your books?

The book isn’t out till July, so if you’d like a sneak peak you can read the first chapter here and you can also pre-order it here. Thanks!

Thank you for visiting the blog, Jenny! 

FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A COPY OF CHERRY BOMB, SIMPLY SIGN UP TO MY NEWSLETTER, AND THEN LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW TELLING US WHAT MUSIC YOU LISTENED TO AS A TEENAGER! Competition closes 30 June 2014 and the winner will be announced and notified the following day.