I’ve been inspired by Holly Seddon's thoughts on what she'd do differently if she wrote her debut novel again on the Huffington Post website to write about my own experience of putting the first novel to bed and beginning the next one. Holly is my ‘Book Twin’ at Atlantic - her brilliant thriller Try Not To Breathe has the same due date (7 January 2016) as What a Way to Go, both titles being available now for pre-order.
In the gap between the acquisition of your first novel and its publication, you’re torn between caring on the one hand for your first novel’s editorial re-writes and then its launch into the world and, on the other, you know you should really be squirrelling away on the second fiction project before engagements to promote the first distract you from your writing routine.
Such tasks as blogging, building or maintaining your website, increasing your social media presence etc. seem to be par for the course now for debut novelists – but how do you find the balance between the two? How do you not let the older sibling, if you’ll allow the analogy, not get all your attention so you can concentrate on the fledgling book? I thought I'd try to transfer my experiences of my pregnancy, childbirth and being a mum to two very energetic kids - the kind you wish that you could plug into the National Grid - and ask myself if there is anything I've learnt that would help me break the back of book two...
Everything with your first pregnancy and experience of childbirth is novel: from the metallic taste in your mouth, to the oxytocin hit you get when you breastfeed your baby, to the marvel which is the amount of gas and air and hot buttered toast you can consume on the NHS. With your second pregnancy, however, everything has lost its edge and sagged a little. Your uterus has been stretched out by the first foetus’ flailing limbs. If there’s not a huge gap between pregnancies, then you’ll also have your pre-school child vying for your attention when all you want to do is watch box sets, eat, sleep. And eat.
With a kid in tow, you are old hat. You know the pager number for the midwives off by heart, you even get a sticker on your pregnancy notes which betrays that you’ve been round the block at least once before. When you’re in the waiting room, you surreptitiously look at one another’s stickers (and bumps) to gauge where they’re at in the production line.
Sitting in the green room at the Hay Festival is not so dissimilar as it turns out; the single rose held between an author’s relaxed hands means they’ve done their talk. I’ve been in the green room at Hay a few times when I’ve helped to promote literature events there on behalf of New Welsh Review, or interview authors for magazine articles. In May 2014, as I sat quietly reading a book waiting for the event with the authors Gwyneth Lewis and John Harrison to start, the daughter of an author acquaintance of mine came bundling up to me and said, ‘I didn’t know you were an artist!’
I looked at her wide, honest eyes and while I thought of an appropriate reply, because I was… and yet, I wasn’t. I was at Hay to help promote other authors’ books, not my own. And yet at that time, I had just found a literary agent to represent me and I had a full-length novel in gestation, one which was going through edits before submission later in the year.
‘I am a sort of artist’, I replied. That seemed to satisfy her curiosity; at least I wasn’t a con artist.
I had a scan late into my second pregnancy. I was 42 weeks pregnant and called into St Michael’s Hospital in Bristol because surely by now there should be some kind of product to show for all that waiting – and weight gain?
The sight of a pregnant woman at term plus fourteen is something to behold. You rarely see these women in public, because it’s generally not encouraged to go over this gestation. Sleeping had become impossible. I ate indiscriminately at any hour, day or night. I was tired, hungry and very, very grumpy.
I am now in the stage of rapid growth with the second novel - the stage where words come out, almost unbidden, like cells multiplying. I am not overly worrying about what the words are. I not obsessing (too much) over word count, just as I didn't obsess over calorific intake when I was pregnant (I threw away the bathroom scales). I am getting to know my new characters’ faults, foibles and flairs. Like an early scan, it is all a little bit sketchy at the moment but I’m not sweating the small stuff. I’m letting it all hang loose a little. At that 42 week scan, when we could clearly see that the baby was not in distress, and that all his vitals were healthy, they gave me four more days before inducing. At nearly three weeks over my due date, out popped my second child.
My first words on holding him were, "Now can I eat the pasta?"
Something will come out at the end of all this typing. And once I have a rough draft, then the real growth can begin.
Meanwhile, I’m turning a blind eye to housework and only concentrating my blog - which my daughter affectionately calls “my blob”, which I think sounds much better - just once a week. If the kids are yelling, I only want to know if there is blood or something broken (bones, crockery or otherwise). Baked beans on toast is a wholesome meal and the beans are served in a tomato sauce, which right there is one of your five-a-day.
I am just getting the words down on the page. No excuses. Feel free to send cake.