Friday, 15 January 2016

GUEST BLOG: Writing a second novel - A F E Smith

With her second novel out yesterday, friend of the blog Anna Smith, kindly let us know about how she went about creating the next thrilling installment of her Darkhaven series, here's what she had to say:

Goldenfire is partly about second chances. It seemed appropriate for a second novel. Although perhaps that’s being a little optimistic – there are so many books out there, these days, that I’m not sure any reader has time to give a second chance to an author whose first book they didn’t like.

Still, as a reader myself, I know there are lots of books that fall somewhere in the middle: books that weren’t instant favourites, but I still liked enough to be interested in reading another by the same author. And it seems likely that my own first novel, Darkhaven, fell into that category for many people. They’re the readers I don’t get to hear about: the ones who didn’t love it so much that they had to tell everyone about it (I’m lucky enough to have had a few of those) or hate it so much that they had to do the same (I’ve had a couple of those, too) but simply read it, enjoyed it, and moved on to something else.

Of course, since I never find out what those readers thought about the book, I have no idea which bits of it they liked and which they didn’t, which poses something of a challenge for the sequel. Ideally, a second novel would be far better than the first. It would impress all those readers in the middle – the ones who neither loved nor hated Darkhaven, but liked it enough to give me a second chance – into giving me a third chance. A fourth. A fifth. But without knowing what my general audience would class as ‘better’, I might be moving in completely the wrong direction. That’s the difficulty of writing a follow-up to anything. It’s impossible to please everyone, but an author’s continued existence depends on pleasing as many people as possible.

All of this is rather a roundabout preamble to my actual point, which is twofold.

Firstly, it provides a heartfelt plea to all the readers out there to review the books you read. Authors can’t write by committee, of course, but I’ve found it genuinely helpful to find out what people like and dislike about my work. If you ask for more of something in particular from an author, you might just get it.

Secondly, and almost in direct contradiction to the first point (because that’s how I roll), I think the actual secret to writing a sequel is to forget what everyone else has said about the first book and just write the book you want to write. I love reader comments and I welcome them – sometimes they directly inform the direction I go in – but in the end, the story belongs to the author. Trying to please everyone ends up pleasing no-one; there will always be someone who doesn’t like what you’re doing. At least if you love what you’re writing, that passion will shine through.

Goldenfire probably isn’t the book that my readers are expecting. I don’t know what they’re expecting – that’s the point. Some people may be surprised to find that it’s set three years after Darkhaven, instead of picking up straight away from the end of the first book. Others may be surprised to find new characters joining some of the old ones. But it’s the book I wanted to write, and I hope it’s enjoyable enough that those who have given me a second chance go on to give me a third.

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