I can’t deny that when I started the sequel to my debut novel I was full of trepidation. A Bed of Barley Straw just happened, all by itself. The story ran from my subconscious straight onto the page. It was an experiment, if you like, a challenge to my psyche: “you keep saying you’ve got a book in you” (that’s my psyche talking, I didn’t say it out loud) “about time you bloody well proved it.”
So I did. And I won (yay, one-nil to me!)
But now I’ve got to make it two-nil, although I’m not sure my psyche ever said “actually, you’ve got two.” What if I didn’t have? What if my debut was also my finale? So many excited requests for the next book…thrilling, wonderful feedback, but can I perform twice?
The start of a sequel is problematic and frustrating. I found that as a reader, and I am finding the same as a writer. It isn’t enough to assume that everyone has read the first book (and unlike a series, A Bed of Barley Straw is a stand-alone book). Book two picks up the story where book one ended. Saga-esque (but over too short a time frame to justify calling it the Draymere Saga, much as I like the ring of that).
Inevitably, readers must be re-introduced to the characters and settings. If you haven’t read the first book or if you read it a long time ago (apologies feedbackers – I’m going as fast as I can), I can’t bombard you with character names and places without, at the very least, a hint to their history as contained in book one. Perversely, when I am reading a sequel (especially if I am reading it soon after the preceding book) I find my mind frequently shouting “I know all that!” Don’t waste my time with flashback and re-introduction. I want the nitty gritty.
So, a conundrum and a balance to be struck. A gentle reminder here and there, a drop of reminiscence. Ideally cleared up in the first few chapters so we can all get down to the nitty gritty. And a good editor please, to tell me if I have succeeded.
I’m delighted to say I am now in the thick of the gritty in book two. Happily the psyche, when it eventually stopped sulking, willingly poured forth a brand new story, complete with plot-twists and turns. Some of the events have even surprised me. And I thought I knew my characters better than that.
Maybe I know them too well. Like an addictive alter-ego computer game, the characters and settings threaten to become more real than my actual life. I am not ‘in the present’, I am in Draymere.
Spirited discussions with The Farmer have erupted from that old cherry – ‘who said what’. You know the bugger:
“I told you…”, “we agreed…”, “we talked about this only yesterday…”
The most recent spirited discussion ended when The Farmer announced heatedly that he was going to start recording our conversations. Now I am not saying that he is right and I am wrong, but shortly after that encounter I called his brother Alexander. Close, both names begin with A.
I have hidden all recording devices in our house and I’m heading off to Draymere. To find out what exactly Alexander is up to now.