Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Second Book itis

I have been suffering from a severe case of second book itis.

As you are all boringly aware by now I have just completed the second book, just as the first book hits the shops.

Book no 2 is a very different beast to no 1. It's faster and more furious. I've concentrated on four different characters rather then three, and I've spent significantly less time with them then I did with Ben and Amy, the characters in Pastures New, who lived in my head for nearly four years by the time I'd finished with them.

Book 2 is also not really my second novel - if you count the unpublished ones it's my fourth. So you might think I'd got the hang of this writing malarkey now.

You might.

But actually, I approached the writing of book 2 with a huge amount of trepidation. Up until now, though the aim has obviously always been publication, to a degree I could please myself, and write what I liked, not what someone else wanted (there is, believe me a difference - having sat at the receving end of manuscripts which are fabulously written etc etc but not at all what I was looking for, I am well aware of how the commercial writing world works.And there is no point writing something that nobody wants).

This time around, I not only had a deadline and an editor as well as my agent to please, but I also had to overcome the psychological hurdle every author faces of feeling you're only as good as your last book. As an editor I never quite understood this phenomenon, knowing that I was going to love the stories of most of the authors I was fortunate enough to work with, but oh, how I understand it now.

It is - paralysing. Utterly utterly paralysing. I finished dealing with the edits of Pastures New earlyish in the year, and then was supposed to get down to business. I had my characters: Mark a divorced dentist (where my story began) about to be sued by a z list celebrity; Emily a lawyer realising she is in the wrong job, relationship, life; Rob whose happy go lucky exterior hides a painful secret; and Katie, who is ridiculously eager to show she has a perfect life. I've brought them all together at dancing classes. I had a very detailed plot worked out. I knew exactly where the story was going. Getting started should have been a piece of piss.

It was at this point I think I began to turn procrastination into an artform. I started to spend an unhealthy amount of time in the blogosphere (not that I'm sorry about that, I've gained readers by doing it, and made some new bloggy friends as a result), I got slightly obsessed with housework (most unlike me), and I kept getting ideas for other books - Livy a character who belongs to another book entirely wouldn't stop chattering away in my head, until I had to firmly tell her where to go. If I come to write her next, I expect someone else will do that to me.

(I have to apologise here. My head is a very strange place - and I don't expect non writers to get how I quite happily cohabit with people I have made up populating my brain. I know my husband thinks its certifiable. And he's probably right).

Thanks to Kate Harrison I got myself in hand by joining the Novel Racers who blogged every Friday about their progress on her blog.

So slowly but surely I got myself going.

I then did what my writing friend Penny Jordan assures me happens to her every single time, namely wrote pretty much the whole back story in the first three chapters. The friend I showed it to quite rightly pointed out that I had far too many characters in Chapter One, so I went through and ruthlessly lost a few.

Over the course of the summer term, progress was patchy and slow, I kept missing self imposed deadlines, but promised myself I would get the first quarter done before the summer holidays. I duly did, and as I wanted feedback to see where it was going sent it to both my agent and editor, who - phew! relief - liked it so far.

Then it was the summer holidays.

So, I stopped. For a bit.

I had this vain thought that maybe I could get up in the mornings before the kids and get an hour done each day.

This was clearly folly, as a) I am lousy in the mornings and b) actually when the kids are home they fill my head so full of their needs and wants and desires there's no room for anything else - not even my fictional friends.

So reluctantly I consigned Mark and Emily and Katie and Rob to wait in the wings till September, when I knew I would be rejuvenated and reenthused enough to meet them again.

Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.

Writers who are way behind on deadline do not need their eldest child to start secondary school at the time when they need to be getting going again.

I just hadn't factored in how much emotional crap goes into guiding an eleven year old through those thorny first weeks at a new school, or how much it completely debiliates the creative part of your brain...

All of this is by way of explanation as to how I got to be soooo behind my deadline that I had to write 50 000 words in three weeks.

I think next time (if such a thing shall forunately come to pass)

I shall a) make sure I'm well into it by the summer and b) actually get some childcare over the summer so I can have a bit of time to keep the thread going. Trying to get back into it after a six week break was murder...

I have no idea whether it works or not, but as a wise writing friend of mine observed, you can't actually tell yourself if its crap or not.

There are one or two scenes which I saw so clearly in my head, and tantalisingly I haven't got down in the way I wanted to, but one or two others where I had a blast. I'm also proud of a few of the jokes - at least one made Spouse laugh - and I really enjoyed the ride.

Inspirations this time were mainly taken from Green Wing and this fabulous poem:

Dance like no one's looking
Love like you've never been hurt
Work like you don't have to
Live like heaven on earth

I always use music as background and to get a feel for a scene.

This time my playlist is rather long and includes:

The First Cut is the Deepest - Mark's broken heart
The Weakness in Me - Emily's life dilemmas
Fifteen Years - the future Rob and Mark may have if they don't sort themselves out
The Boys are Back in Town - for when they're lads out on the pull
The Miracle of Love - for all the falling in love bits
Feel - For Rob. How I listened to that track over and over!
Can't Get you out of My Head - I think all my characters feel that at some point.
Slipping Through my Fingers - the way Mark feels about his daughter
Shape of my Heart - just for the feeling it engenders
Fields of Gold - for one of the scenes I had trouble with
and Nights in White Satin - for the feelings again.

It would be so neat to do a virtual book where I could put the soundtrack over the words, but I don't think the technologies quite there yet.

That's it.
I am officially cured of second book itis.

Now I've got to think about the next one and choose one of four ideas bubbling about in my brain...


I think I'm about to come down with a severe case of third book itis!


Mad Twin said...

Well having finished the draft you have sent me - I can honestly say you have nothing to worry about. It's zippy, funny, sad & has bashes zlebrities in a way we wish we all could. Now if you can get it's launch to coincide with Big Brother or I'm a Celebrity you would increase it's chances no end.

And you've distracted me from my housework damn you.

Mad Twin

Nic said...

don't worry about your head being full of characters. I love researchig my family history. During the course of going through Victorian parish records, I came across several characters who took up residence in my head for so long I was convinved I would recognise them if they walked into the house. One went by the delightful (married) name of Comfort Osbourne - in my head she had sisters called Patience, Faith and Virtue. Another was Emma Claridge, a single woman with 8 or 9 children. Several of them bore the middle name Jessop or the middle name William - a clue to the father's identity perhaps? In my head she was sometimes the village tart with a heart, and on others, the local girl who helped keep the Master at the Big House happy. And as for those who actually were in my family tree... well, it kep me occupied for a long time!

Jane Henry said...

Nic, glad I'm not the only one!