Beth Miller

Writing and tea


Q: What's the difference between books 1 and 2?

Posted on April 4, 2014 at 7:05 AM

A: About eleven-and-a-half years.

The first book, When We Were Sisters, took about twelve years to write. Well, I wasn't writing solidly for twelve years. I took a few breaks, had some children and jobs and things, and a lot of cups of tea. But from the moment I wrote the first sentence, to the moment a publisher said yes, was about twelve years.

I started the second book - working title: The Good Neighbour - in September 2013, and finished the first draft last month, in March. Six months, pretty much. Though it needs a good kicking before it's in shape. It's not finished-finished. It's not even the end of the beginning. But the raw shape's there.

These are the things that were different this time round.

1. The publisher wanted a second book. So the whole time I was writing The Good Neighbour, I was thinking, ooh someone's waiting for this. Someone will read this when it's done. It was a nice thought. I sort of imagined them in a conference room, just sitting round, waiting for the book. They were smiling in happy anticipation, and drinking coffee. They had bowls of boiled sweets and some of those meeting-room blotters to doodle on; I didn't want them to get bored.

2. I knew what the story was this time. First book, I had no idea - for years - about the story. I was barely aware that it was something I should know. I wrote into a void, wondering where it would all go and trusting that it would come out right. That was a mis-placed trust. There was a lot of shouting and crying and ripping up bits of paper* before I was able to glimpse a beginning, middle and end in the gloaming. Second book, I decided what the story was before I started writing, planned a beginning, middle and end, and wrote accordingly. What a revelation! They ought to publish a few writing books that suggest this! Oh.

* but I put all the paper into the recycling. I am not a barbarian.

3. I am a quicker writer now. I learned a lot about writing while spending all those years on WWWS. I learned that I need to just splurge out words, any words will do, and go back and sort them out later. The more words I've splurged, the more clay there is to get my hands into, and start moulding.

4. My memory's not great. The quicker I write, the more of the book I can hold in my head. When I re-read the first book, I kept finding sections I absolutely could not remember writing. Once, a whole chapter. Had the little elves of 'Shoemaker' fame changed career? Were they now coming into my computer at night and writing whole scenes? I haven't ruled out this possibility. With the new book, I can more or less remember what I wrote a couple of months ago, so re-reading isn't such a surprise, and I can mostly remember the key traits I have given my characters. I can't let it drag on much longer though as I already have no recall of Chapter 1. And a woman who started out Cockney now seems to be quite posh.

Categories: Novel, Difficult second novel