The book has been critically acclaimed by far more important folk than I, and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, the Saltire Scottish First Book of the year, the Green Carnation prize and the Southbank Sky Arts Award. Pretty damn impressive! As of this week it’s available in paperback and to celebrate Kerry has been doing a wee blog tour. She’s been chatting to people about various things – her inspiration, favourite writing spots etcetera. I wondered if all the praise for her debut made writing her second novel super pressurised.
That difficult second album. Second novel syndrome. How to train to be a taxidermist. I googled all of these in the final months of finishing up my second novel, Thirst. If you are writing your second novel right now DO NOT DO THIS. It is very unhelpful as there are swathes of articles who’ll tell you about each and every author whose second novel got consigned to the bottom drawer. Forever.
The common reasons that these articles and blogs give for a second novel being difficult is: The first novel is autobiographic/semi-autobiographic and had been being ‘written’ for years before fingers ever hit the keyboard. That there is more pressure, people are waiting for the book, you have ‘readers’. That if you’re uncontracted (as I was) for that second book then the pressure is double because that might be it, game over, The End. I recognise all of these symptoms and I know I’m not alone, the writers I’ve spoken to about this gave their own stories of procrastination, despair, manic optimism over an idea only to realise it is pure panic-driven madness.
But, I live to tell the tale (boom boom). So here’s how I slayed the second-novel dragon:
I quit my job, gave up my flat, used every single penny I had and took myself off to Vietnam for four months. I don’t recommend this first step unless you’re feeling very brave and you know in advance that Hanoi is actually absolutely fucking freezing over the winter months but it did mean it was all or nothing in getting it finished.
I have always tried pragmatic about writing; it’s a job and there are jobs that are tougher, much tougher. Writing is a joy, having the freedom to write what we choose is a privilege many don’t have. Whenever I felt myself slipping into angst because a scene wasn’t working and thus becoming a little too fond of my South East Asian hot toddy (made with lime and Vietnamese whisky) I’d remember how lucky I was and Just Bloody Get On With It.
I was methodical. I had a schedule of when all of the editorial drafts needed to be completed; structural, a scene by scene rework (10 pages a day), another draft for the development of each of the main characters and a read aloud. Before I began reworking anything, I reread it and wrote down what was happening on the page and what I wanted to happen. I didn’t always stick to the schedule and the notes didn’t always help but at least I knew how far behind I actually was when I was slipping.
I downloaded Scrivener. Scrivener, you little beauty! My second book has two protagonists and three separate timelines. A huge, and very technical, departure from Tony Hogan. Scriveners functionality saved me from rocking in a corner while chewing on my own hair.
I stopped thinking about the Other Stuff. Other stuff is: the response to your first book, comparisons to the first book, fears of only having one book in you, terror that your publisher is buying other new books that might be like yours, other writers already publishing their second books, the voice in your head that is always ready to tear a strip off you. Instead, I just thought about the story, how vulnerable my characters were and how I wanted to do them justice.
So that’s it really: Arse to seat, organise, get Scrivener, get out of your own head and into the story. Sounds easy. It bloody well isn’t but it is worth it; as my debut comes out in paperback I know next July Thirst, my second novel, will be on shelves next to it. And I’m no longer Googling scary articles about the trouble with second novels so can spend more time looking at pictures of pissed off animals in fancy dress on Buzzfeed.
Ah, I’m so glad Kerry has managed to write her way through any worry and really look forward to reading Thirst when it comes out. For now though she’s organised a competition to win a signed copy of Tony Hogan…
‘Want to win a signed copy of Tony Hogan? I’m trying to put together a Tony Hogan soundtrack. Simply submit your song suggestion to me @kerryswindow on Twitter with the hashtag #tonyhogantune by the end of Tuesday 9th of July. If your song is one of the ten selected for the soundtrack (and you were the first to suggest it!) I’ll send you a signed copy of Tony Hogan.’
You’d best get cracking eh? You can find out more about Kerry at her website, and follow her on twitter @KerrysWindow.