7.4 WRITING THAT TRICKY SECOND NOVEL: MAZ EVANS
Let’s get straight to the point. Second Novel Syndrome is REAL! (So, btw, is Second Series Syndrome, but one thing at a time…!)
You’ve spent your whole life writing your first novel. You honed it, you polished it, you laughed and cried over it – and eventually, you published it.
And now you’ve got to do it all over again. Just much faster.
I cannot tell you how hard I struggled with my second novel, Simply The Quest. It was the sequel to my debut, Who Let the Gods Out? and came at an especially tumultuous time in my personal life, when I was in the midst of moving my family, my home and my job 100 miles out of London where I had lived for the past two decades. How much that impacted the stress I do not know, but the book itself was hell on Earth to write. In fact, it was actually three TOTALLY different novels before it found its right form and I – and I’m sure my publishers – thought that despite the beautiful thunderbolts on my bestselling debut, lightning was not about to strike twice…
Mind over matter
There is a lot going on as you embark on your second book. You have the reaction to your first book – for better or worse – knocking around your head. This isn’t something you’re doing for fun now – it’s your job. And you have money, people and pressure in the mix in a way that you didn’t have the first time. But ultimately I think that, like so much of the creative process, second books are actually mind over matter. You know you can write a book. You just need to do it again.
I write this at the point at which I am about to embark on my tenth of the at least 12 novels I know I will write. Four have been published, six are coming in the next three years, two of those have yet to be written, one is on spec and one failed miserably. Every single book thus far has been a totally different experience from conception to publication and if I have a process, I’m still refining it as I go along. But that second one is the one that really stuck in my mind and was the hardest by far, as I know it has been for so many writers.
I’m not advocating this approach for everyone, but I’m quite Churchillian with regard to my writing – when I’m going through hell, I keep going. I find if I step away, the fear and panic build and I rarely solve problems away from the page. The best cure for any writing issues for me, tends to be writing.
That said, there were moments I was very grateful to those I love for dragging me away from the laptop and filling my head with other things from time to time to let my subconscious do its thing. It is entirely possible if you keep banging your head against a brick wall, you’ll merely concuss yourself. I certainly know that once the chaos in my personal life abated, things fell into place much more easily – writing when you have a headful is a whole other skill.
But as I say, each book is unique. So here are some words of wisdom from some of my author buddies. You are not alone, friend!
Writerly words of wisdom
“I think there’s a tendency to do something totally different with your second book and that can take you wildly out of your comfort zone! I read DAEMON VOICES recently and Phillip Pullman says something amazing about how you should always try to play to your strengths – he’s a carpenter, so he says rather than trying to go against the grain of the wood and chip away miserably, you should try to carve with the grain. I love that!” Ross Montgomery
“The first time I was writing a second book, I worried a lot about how it would fit with the first book and I stressed over every little thing; but now, I’ve realised that as along as I am true to the characters & the story, it will work itself out. You can’t force a square story into a round hole; you have to let each book stand for itself.” Kimberly Pauley
“At the time, doing the massive rewrite felt okay, but looking back, it was actually really hard work! I know that was all due to me trying to make it as good as it could be and also playing to the strengths of the first book, which had already come out, so part of it was responding to what people liked about Book 1” James Nicol
“The first novel is one that has a home in your mind for years, with the character and the plot. It’s a build-up that you redraft again and again till it’s perfect. The second novel is pure pressure… a pressure that you place on yourself because you feel you will lose your place in this new world of publishing where you have finally gained entry. My advice – write at your own pace.” Sufiya Ahmed
“I just keep telling myself that I’ll only have to do it once!” Elle McNicholl
“I felt like I had a demon on my shoulder whispering, ‘The first was a fluke, this is where you get found out’! But halfway through I realised the best thing I could do as a writer was learn to trust myself. Current Gabrielle knows that no matter what godawful mess she makes of a first draft, future Gabrielle can fix it.” Gabrielle Kent
“I feel like every book is a second book. There’s no expectation involved with the first one – not from yourself nor from anyone else. Maybe the answer is to imagine every book is your first?” Dan Smith
“It’s so difficult to block out the doubting voice. What helped me most was my agent, cheering me on and telling me that she knew I could do it. So, my advice would be to surround yourself with people who have faith in you, and don’t be afraid to turn to them for support.” Sophie Anderson
“My second book was so tricky and took me so long (8 drafts!), but I kept reminding myself that I had finished a book once before, so I could do it again!” Katie Webber-Tsang
“I found it hard to get the tone/wtyle right, because I wanted to do something very different with the narrative voice and the structure. But then (with encouragement from my editor), ended up going with the grain and it came together much more easily then…” Lucy Strange
‘My tactic was to write it fast – before the first book came out if possible! – and truly be comforted by the fact that everyone finds it excruciating. So get it over with and ignore the self-hatred as much as possible. You can make it good in the edit. I had Second Book Syndrome with my third, because I wrote my second while my first was being rejected by EVERYONE!” Kiran Millwood Hargrave
“I think writing my second book before the first came out was a small blessing. The thirld book and all subsequent ones seem harder, mainly because I was feel: by now I should know what I’m doing. What’s that thing about designing a chair? Once you have the blueprint you can repeat as before, but writing a book, each one is different. But on the first few drafts, my motto is always, ‘I’ll fix it later,’ which works for me drafting, but never seems to wash with the editors.” Peter Bunzl
Maz’s debut children’s novel Who Let the Gods Out was published by Chicken House in February 2017 and was selected as the Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Month. It entered the bestseller charts on its first week on sale, has sold to 18 countries worldwide and has received over 20 award nominations, including the Carnegie Medal, Branford Boase, Books Are My Bag and Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Year.
The sequel, Simply the Quest was published in August 2017, Beyond the Odyssey in April 2018 and Against All Gods in February 2019. Maz also narrates the audiobooks for the series.
Her acclaimed creative writing events have featured at Hay, Imagine, Edinburgh, Bath, Cheltenham, Latitude, Wilderness and many other literary festivals and primary schools around the UK.
Maz began her career as a TV journalist, critiquing for The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Sun, and TV Times magazine and she still regularly broadcasts her views on anything from politics to parenthood on BBC Radio 2, BBC News, BBC Radio 4, Five Live and the bus. Maz has participated in the Casualty and Holby City BBC shadow schemes and her children’s poetry has been published in Caterpillar magazine.
Maz is much in demand as a comedy book and lyrics writer for the stage. Her original musical H. R. HAITCH, with composer Luke Bateman, was produced by Iris Theatre at the Union Theatre, London in 2018. She has previously had shows produced at the Actors’ Church Covent Garden, Southend Palace Theatre and Bryanston Arts Centre. Her cabaret songs are regularly performed in the West End and beyond.
As a songwriter, Maz has won the Iris Theatre Work in Process songwriting award three years in succession (with composer Luke Bateman). As a scriptwriter, she won thescriptwriter.co.uk scriptwriting competition and a place in Philip Shelley’s Advanced Mentoring Lab at the London Screenwriters’ Festival. She was also shortlisted for the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum and the Scriptangel contest. As an author, she has won the hearts of thousands of children and as a nuclear physicist, she has been completely rubbish.
Maz also runs our MG Mentoring course.