I’ve just started writing chapter 20 of “Hell at High Water”, the sequel to “Black Moon Over Malvern”. I’d describe progress with the book as steady rather than fast – though, having said that, it’s proving to be considerably faster than Black Moon which took me over 12 years to complete! Anyway, the fact that I’ve reached chapter 20 has prompted me to take stock of where I am and reflect on some of the lessons I’ve learned so far.
The bottom line is that, for me, writing a book feels significantly different the second time round. For a start, I’ve no delusions of grandeur this time: I’m not doing it because I think I’m going to be a blockbuster novelist (embarrassingly, up until about a year ago, there was a part of me really believed I would be!) I’m doing it because I genuinely love writing and simply can’t stop. I still want to sell thousands of copies and get lots of plaudits – what writer doesn’t? – but I recognise that it’s only a very small proportion of novelists who have that sort of success and the rest of us either carry on because we enjoy it or give it up as a bad job. The long and the short of it is, I’m not giving up.
It feels different in practical ways too. Firstly, my chapters are shorter (6 or 7 pages, compared with around 20 pages in Black Moon) and I can already tell that this is giving the story more pace. The decision to go for shorter chapters was mainly based on my own experience of reading (usually in bed, last thing at night) and my preference for concise sections rather than extended ones that I’d usually have to bookmark halfway through because I needed to go to sleep! Secondly, I’ve moved the main location from Malvern, where I haven’t lived for nearly forty years, to Weston-super-Mare which is a mere 7 miles from where I’m living now. In simple terms it means that if I need to visit for plot reasons (to check a particular view or the distance/time between one location and another, for example) I can easily do it. Before, I had to rely on my memory/photographs/Google or make a special 200 mile round trip. Thirdly, I’ve been able to choose which characters to bring forward from the previous book (mainly Dennis, Margaret and Julian for those lucky/discerning enough to have already read Black Moon!) and which to leave behind. This has enabled me to balance continuity (it is a sequel after all) with freshness: i.e. introduce new personalities (some of them very dodgy indeed!) with whom my trio of familiar faces have to contend.
One thing I haven’t changed however is the amount of dialogue (there’s still a lot of it) even though I was once advised by an agent to reduce it in favour of more description/exposition. Basically I like dialogue: I like reading it and I like writing it (and remember, I’m now writing primarily because I enjoy it – sales and plaudits are just the icing on the cake!). Also, despite what that agent said, I know a lot of other people enjoy reading dialogue as well. Indeed, a very good friend of mine once told me that if he opens a book in Waterstones and it isn’t chockablock with spoken passages, he rejects it immediately and looks for one that is.
I could go on and tell you about the international element I’ve introduced into Hell Over High Water (specifically, a glamorous, but shady, film actor from Uruguay) and how useful Google Street View has been in helping me get to know the back streets of Montevideo (necessary because it’s slightly more than a 200 mile round trip from Somerset!), but I think I’ll save that for another post.
In conclusion, if you haven’t read Black Moon Over Malvern already, do yourself a favour and read it now. I can guarantee you’ll enjoy it and it’s a great and inexpensive (only 1.99 for the Kindle edition) way to fill those long lockdown hours. And when you’ve finished and find yourself champing at the bit to read more, console yourself with the knowledge that the sequel, Hell at High Water, is well underway and should be available very soon…