I recently took delivery of a parcel containing complimentary copies of my debut novel, The Hidden Legacy. The moment I saw what was inside, I wanted to hug each and every copy because this was a moment I'd struggled to envisage during those long and lonely evenings before I finally landed a 2-book deal. As far as my writing career is concerned, I don't expect to surpass that feeling of euphoria, although I'm sure spotting the book on the top shelves of one of the major retailers or seeing someone reading it on the beach or during a train journey will run it close. Or how about reading a glowing review of it, penned by Maggie O'Farrell or Kate Atkinson? It couldn't get much better than that.
Then of course it's on to book 2, which one might assume to be a fairly automatic process. After all, I've done it once and there aren't many things in life that you don't do better second time around, are there? But in this respect at least, writing novels seems to buck the trend because the second novel has managed to acquire the reputation of being something to be feared. Some writers have been inspired by a particular idea for the debut novel but simply don't have a second book in them. Some others do have a fairly clear idea as to what they want to write but then get sucked into the trap of making invidious comparisons with the first novel - what if this one isn't as good? What if no one likes it?
In this respect I could hardly have been more fortunate because by the time The Hidden Legacy had been accepted and a two-book deal had been signed, I'd practically finished the next one. There was the whole editing process to go through of course but editing is generally done within the clearly defined context of a completed novel. Unless it is inexpressibly awful, there's not likely to be any question of tearing it all up and starting again from scratch so whether or not Lie In Wait was close enough to its predecessor in terms of quality and likely appeal was largely immaterial. It was what it was, ready to compete on its own terms.
Now that the whole process is complete (the eBook of Lie In Wait is scheduled for publication on August 25th, the same day as the paperback of The Hidden Legacy) it's possible for me to look at both of them and make comparisons in terms of themes, characters, plot lines and not drive myself frantic with worries about whether the book is going to bomb spectacularly. I have my book 2. Or to emphasise that slightly differently, I have my book 2, not one that has changed shape during the writing process to match up with other people's perceptions as to what I ought to be writing. It's the book I wanted to produce in the first place.
One interesting point of comparison however is the switch from a strong female lead to a wounded, complex mess of a man in book 2. In both novels I had my central character clearly defined in my own mind long before I got down to the actual business of plotting or writing. I carried them around with me for ages and the storylines grew out of my need for a situation in which I could test them.
In The Hidden Legacy Ellen is recently divorced and struggling to reconcile the demands of her professional life with the day-to-day last-minute adjustments that are part of the territory when young children are involved. She grew out of an exercise I did as part of the Creative Writing MA at the University of Chichester, long before any thoughts of writing The Hidden Legacy had surfaced, and I knew that at some stage I would have to write about her - I felt there was something compelling about her and wasn't about to let her go to waste. The challenge also appealed to me, if I'm honest. I've produced several stories with males taking the lead and even if I make them much younger or give them totally different backgrounds and experiences from my own it's not quite the same as writing an entire novel with a younger female at the centre of things. I've worked very hard with Ellen to make her as convincing and compelling a person as I can and some of the compliments I've received in reviews and via social media from readers who hadn't realised that the book was written by a man have meant more to me than just about anything else. I take it all as a huge compliment.
In Lie In Wait I have, as I said earlier, reverted to writing about a male character but it's one with a difference in that Owen Hall is both damaged and disadvantaged so I'm again having to empathise and imagine rather than call on my own personal experiences. Owen has never been able to form relationships with others, has been bullied throughout his childhood and has withdrawn into himself, placing his trust in the world of numbers which he uses as his guide for dealing with his hostile environment. But as an adult he is also a very different person physically from the boy who used to be victimised in school and at some stage those two worlds were always going to collide. I wanted to see what would happen when they did and I hope anyone who buys the book will enjoy the experience as much as I did planning and writing it.
So now, hopefully, it's on to book 3 and, as far as I'm aware, that doesn't come with quite the same fearsome reputation as book 2. It would be nice to have the chance to find out for myself.