As I write this I am ten days away from the release of my second novel, Summer of Ghosts (Aug 14th 2014). This is my career-breaking/making difficult second book (of a two-book deal). If this is no good I am working at Starbucks. UGH!
My first book, The Last Winter of Dani Lancing, was written in the blissful state of low expectation and no deadlines. I was a stay-at-home dad with a failed business and mind-numbing freelance work. I wrote for three years and amazingly found an agent and he sold the book: ‘They love your book. They don’t like the title, they want to change your name – but they love it. They want two books. You’ve got twelve months to write the second. Can you do it?’ He asked… I didn’t know.
Now a year sounds a lot doesn’t it? Ha! The reality is that four months are eaten up with rewrites on the existing book. Then the book goes through copy editing and proofing and production. Each stage has endless pages of questions, not only about format and timelines but factual too (I mentioned a live band in one scene and they had already split up when the chapter took place – eek). I am also my worst enemy as I offered my editor two 120 page novellas based upon the early lives of the two central characters. When I was writing Dani Lancing I did all this research and created entire C.V’s for Patty (who was a crime journalist) and Tom Bevans, Dani’s boyfriend who joined the police to make amends for not saving her. So I created Patty’s breakthrough story (The Ugly Man, set in 1976 when Dani was eight years old) and The Sad Man (the case that makes Tom’s career in 1999 and allows him to set up Operation Ares) Of course my editor was excited and asked for them ASAP. I had meant I would write them after book two, but I said: ‘Of course, coming right up.’ Idiot! That took two months – and they both went through the same editing, copy and proof processes as the novels (they are now available FREE from all good ebook stockists).
I had six months left, and the pressure was really starting to build as reviews began to come in for Dani Lancing. I was writing every day but getting a little lost as suddenly I was: ‘genuinely intriguing’ and ‘brilliant’ and a ‘master of mystery.’ Was I? (There were many less flattering quotes – I warn debut novelists, Goodreads is a jungle that can eat you alive). But I was reading my good press and hearing people around me saying they didn’t like this or that and the most important character was blah blah blah… It is hard to stay true to your vision when so many spotlights are shined in your face. I was also learning a new career with no training and no real guidance – I was finding everything out as I shuffled along. Yet all the while this deadline loomed, like the sword of Damocles. Time ticked away as I wrote and wrote and drank coffee and wrote like there was no tomorrow.
Did I make my twelve-month deadline? No. I was a month late. It was exhilarating, but also exhausting. I felt like I had trained for a marathon (though in reality I had gained ten lbs and had barely exercised in six months and had a twenty espresso a day habit.) But it was done – Ha,ha,ha. Except that then there were re-writes and all those questions. Finally the book was really completed and do you know the most difficult thing? Only two people in the whole world had read it, my editor and myself. On the first book, I had friends reading each scene and supporting me. On Summer of Ghosts it was just me. The jump from part-time writer to professional is nothing about scale – it is all about having to knuckle down and write all the time, and to trust yourself and your ideas. It is just you and pen/paper/laptop, and coffee.
Today (launch date minus ten) it is still just a handful of people who have read Summer of Ghosts. The police officers who advised me – they loved it. My Dad; ‘better than the first son.’ And last night my sister-in-law finished it and screamed three times – she did not see those twists coming. Of course I was pleased, but do I really trust my sister-in-law? Or my Dad? So, I am anxiously awaiting reviews and the thoughts of my peers. I truly am nervous. It is such a naked act – to write for an audience, there is no-one to hide behind. I am proud of it. I think I am getting better at this writing malarkey. We shall see.
And, of course, the truth is that I have to start all over again for book three (and so far I only have one scene written and about six notebooks filled with doodles) – and just hope my publisher still wants to be my friend. I have nine months. UGH!
PD Viner is published by Ebury Press