Well, several thousand words in and there’ve been painful lessons. No wonder some authors make their readers wait 10 years like Donna Tartt.
I got masses of guidance from people who’d loved my debut novel One Night at the Jacaranda. It was well meant, and some of it made sense. Of course I’d keep the action in London. My new book is a sequel so I’m hardly going to move all the characters to an island in the Indian Ocean (although they could all holiday together, which might need research…).
I’m less sure about the suggestion of south London as a location. North Londoners like me just don’t go there. Why would we? More to the point, how? Public transport is dire south of the Thames, and cabbies won’t go there after dark.
People told me that new readers should know a little of what went on in the first book. But when a friend said “Explain the back story”, I thought Not bloody likely!
Explaining, like telling, is poisonous to stories, as Jessica Bell so clearly shows in Show Don’t tell in a Nutshell. It’s like salt to a slug, lilies to cats, peanuts to an allergy patient, or grapefruit to someone taking statins (Jess, when’s Similes and Metaphors in a Nutshell coming out?).
Another suggestion: “Include more issues.” Yes, One Night at the Jac did have darker undertones than most chick-lit, so maybe this is a trend to continue. There was no shortage of ideas: surrogacy, gay marriage, far-right politics, female genital mutilation. At this rate my book would have more issues than Vogue.
I received most advice about characters. Some characters, like Sanjay’s family, were so popular that readers begged me to bring them back for an encore. Obviously I’m adding a few new ones too, so just two chapters in and my new novel bears more than a passing resemblance to Ben Hur. Without the chariots. Though, actually, why not chariots? They might be handy in south London.
Some people wanted more cats. In One Night at the Jac three cats have major roles and several dogs have walk-on parts. I was thinking of adding rats to the sequel, now that I’ve heard about Hero Rats that can detect landmines. But what am I writing here? Animal Farm?
A couple of friends wanted to be in the book, or, failing that, have a character named after them. Another said she’d dreamed up the perfect name. I haven’t yet found a use for Lady Ponsonby-Smythe-Pinksy (aka Sugar) in my novel, but I’ll keep an open mind.
That may be the problem. By now my mind is so open that my brain is falling out. Take all these ideas on board and I’d end up with one of those novels where each chapter is written by someone different, and nothing actually happens. Except sex.
So I’m going to do what I did with the first novel, and write to please myself. I suggest you do too.
But don’t take my advice.
Was your second novel daunting to write? How did you get through it?
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