Last 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.
Being 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.