Tim Weaver on that not-so-difficult second book…

My first book, Chasing the Dead, took ten years to write. It was a struggle every step of the way: rejections, disappointment, rewrites, more rewrites, more rejections, each one a little bit harder to take. I’m a particularly neurotic writer, which probably doesn’t help, but Chasing the Dead constantly challenged me, even after publication where I’d look back, sometimes re-read the occasional passage, and think, “If only I could go back and change that…” Perhaps it’s part of a writer’s DNA to always feel compelled to edit, cut, swap and change; to always think you can get better. Or maybe it was just a very personal reaction to something I spent a really long time with – almost a third of my life.

The Dead Tracks, though, was very different.

It wasn’t easy exactly – because nothing that runs to 108,272 words is easy, either to write or piece together – but compared to Chasing the Dead it was a walk in the park. I started it just before Christmas in 2009, three months after signing with Penguin, and I finished it in May 2010. Six months. Six months. (I should probably point out that my day job as a journalist restricts me to only writing in the evenings, which is why I think SIX MONTHS is worth an extra capitalisation here.) Why was it so straightforward? To be perfectly honest, I’m not quite sure. I had a good, big and detailed plan for it, which was one of the areas I fell down in with Chasing. For that book, I wrote and hoped; for this, I wrote and knew. Knew the characters, knew where they were headed, knew how they all came together. But I think, more than that, you learn such a lot from your first book. Not just the places you went wrong – and, goodness knows, there were plenty of them – but the places you went right. The successes of Chasing – the characters, plot and pacing that really felt good – I tried to bring across wholesale. Of course, I changed everything at a surface level, I tweaked and refined, but so much of what makes a good thriller – the nuts and bolts of the genre blueprint, the engine – needs to be adhered to and slowly rehoused.

I’m pretty confident The Dead Tracks isn’t perfect. I’m pretty confident that I’ll never write anything that’s perfect. But I genuinely believe the book is the best I could have written at this moment in time. Maybe further down the line, I’ll look back at it and think, “If only I could go back and change that…’, but for now I’m comfortable with it. There’s nothing I’d desperately want to edit out, and nothing I’d kill to squeeze in either.

However, if it’s all starting to sound like I’m getting a little smug, find comfort in the fact that Book 3 is even more grindingly miserable than Chasing was – and I have a twentieth of the time to write it in. Perhaps I’m being punished for my experiences with The Dead Tracks. Or perhaps The Dead Tracks was just one of those books: the ones I’ve heard authors talk about many times in interviews, where it all came together, where all the cogs fit, where the machine cranked into life instantaneously. I suspect the reality of writing, for me at least, is somewhere between The Dead Tracks and Book 3: a process of intense excitement, immense creativity, regular head-scratching and frequent self-doubt.

The Dead Tracks is published by Penguin

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