Somehow, I’m just about to release my second novel. An interesting state of affairs, because I still don’t think the reality of my debut coming out has hit me yet, and now I have two books out there in the world. Eeek.
The lovely Mr Perring has given me a platform in his blog to talk a bit about The Second Novel Experience, and to begin with I should probably explain, for those of you who’ve never heard of me, a little bit about my first- and second-born. I write Victorian-set historical fiction, and Cover the Mirrors, my debut tale of bogus mediums, passionate affairs and the art of flirting with the aid of the language of flowers, was first published in hardback by Macmillan in 2007, with a paperback following the year after, as well as large print and audio editions, and a Romanian translation in the works. Today sees the release of Trades of the Flesh, which features pornography, prostitution, dissection of corpses and other savoury things I can’t wait for my family to read about, and I’m pleased to report that this first edition will from the off be a recession-friendly mass market paperback, as well as appearing in a promotion in WH Smith Travel branches.
I write all this as if it had truly sunk in, but to be perfectly honest, I’m still as wide-eyed and amazed about the whole thing as I was when I opened the first email I ever received from Will Atkins (my editor at Macmillan), offering to publish Mirrors. So really, publishing my second novel feels a lot like publishing my first – weird, wonderful, and the stuff of dreams.
Mirrors wasn’t just the first novel I had published, it was the first novel I’d written full stop. (Previously, I had been a short story girl.) And while every author learns a great deal with each novel they write, no matter how experienced they are, I think there’s an extra educational element to picking up your pen or sitting down at your keyboard to write your second book, because for the first time, you’re no longer in completely unfamiliar territory. (I clarify that by saying “completely” as each book is always that little bit different to those that went before it, so starting a new project is never old hat.) When I started Trades, I knew that I could write full-length fiction, and so at least I didn’t have to wonder whether I could tell a tale of 80,000 words as opposed to 4000. Plus, I began working on Trades as soon as I started sending Mirrors out in search of representation and/or publication, and so I was well into it by the time I got that wonderful email from Will. Because of this, I think I avoided one of the common struggles of writers working on their second novels, a lot of whom reportedly find, if they begin writing Book Two after Book One has been published or accepted for publication, that they are consumed with performance anxiety – that “dance as if there’s nobody looking” situation no longer applies, and the author is left wondering: will Those In Power like their second novel as much as they liked their first, or will they hear those words that are dreaded by artists of all stripes: “I prefer your older work to your newer work”?
I know, I know – from the perspective of an unpublished writer, that’s an enviable ‘problem’ for someone to have, isn’t it? I don’t think many second-time novelists would complain about being in that situation, though – it’s just a matter of the challenges a person faces altering along with their situation, that’s all. And as I say, Trades was conceived and (largely) written while publication was still a distant dream for me, so it’s not even something I can claim to have experienced myself. So did the performance anxiety hit when I started on my third book? Not to an excruciating degree, now I think of it. The experience of writing (and editing) two books naturally enhances one’s sense of what does and does not work, and so I think my standards and expectations of myself are getting higher with each subsequent book (this is why artists are always their own greatest critics!), but writing most of my second novel before my first hit the shelves highlighted for me one of the most important lessons I think a writer has to learn; namely that your best writing comes when you write first and foremost for yourself, and worry about other people later. That kind of passion and sincerity can’t be faked, and the stories that come from deep within you, without any worries of what other people will think about them, flow that much more freely not only when you, the author, sit down to write; but also when the time comes for the reader to share in your vision.
If there’s anything I’d like to say about writing a second novel, I think that’s it, and all that remains is to for me to offer my heartfelt thanks to all who bought and enjoyed my first novel, and those who will do so for my second. It’s incredibly humbling, and if my stories have entertained you, I’m delighted to hear it.
Thanks to Nik for letting me waffle!
Trades of the Flesh is a gripping novel about the body and its desires, from a precocious voice in historical fiction.