July 16, 2019

The dread of Second Novel Syndrome

Second novels are notoriously difficult to write. You lose your debut status and you find you have gained a whole lot of reader expectation . . .

Sure, having readers is what it's all about, but it's difficult enough to face that blank computer screen with that feeling that quite a number of people are sitting on your shoulder eagerly expecting the same, only different. But not that different. They liked your first book, but you can't just write that again . . . yet if you write something completely new are your readers going to sulk and tell you this was not what they were expecting?

No wonder there is something called Second Novel Syndrome.

My first book, The Last Chance Hotel, was so incredibly difficult to write I think I always approached the second one with a feeling that it could only be easier. I set out wanting to do a proper murder mystery, full of twists and turns, clues and red herrings, and I wanted to set it in a world that had magic in it (that was very probably used in the murder). And I wanted it to be for children.

It was insanely difficult to write. Writing crime fiction for adults you often can use the advantage of taking your readers through a sub-plot meander so that they conveniently forget some of the crucial action.

But writing for children, it has to be short, clear and understandable . . . only not too understandable because you don't want everyone to get to the end and have everyone go 'oh was that it? I saw that coming ages ago'. I sometimes wondered if I was trying to write something that was actually impossible.

So I have to say it wasn't so much a thrill that so many readers liked The Last Chance Hotel, as just a relief that no-one has said it was either too easy, or way too difficult to understand.

I think having managed to achieve (I think!) that balance, did make it easier the second time around. Of course there were new challenges, like incorporating some of the key elements of the first book, without making the beginning just a boring rehash - or including too many spoilers if you happen to read this one first.

Hopefully all the elements are there that readers will enjoy - a mystery that might be down to magic, Seth trying to learn fast about the magical world (along with help/hindrance in equal measure from his cat, Nightshade). And of course at it's heart, this is a mystery story, set in a remote location. There is a body and a bunch of people looking over their shoulders and wondering which of them is the baddie. 

I really hope readers will like it - particularly those that took the trouble to review or write to me about The Last Chance Hotel.  I am going to leave here a small piece about Beatrix Potter's attitude to worrying whether people actually liked her books:

“If it were not impertinent to lecture one’s publisher, you are a great deal too much afraid of the public for whom I have never cared one tuppeny-button. I am sure that it is this attitude of mind which has enabled me to keep up the series. Most people, after one success, are so cringingly afraid of doing less well that they rub all the edge off their subsequent work.”

– Beatrix Potter in a letter to her publisher, after they complained about The Tale of Mr Tod being too dark and having the opening line “I am quite tired of making goody goody books about nice people”.

She eventually changed the opening line to “I have made many books about well-behaved people. Now, for a change, I am going to make a story about two disagreeable people, called Tommy Brock and Mr. Tod”

Well, with respect to Beatrix Potter, I do care quite a few tuppeny-buttons about my readers. I care desperately that this next book is better than they hoped, and that I haven't rubbed too many edges off The Bad Luck Lighthouse.

And if you are interested how I plot my books, things I find useful to help create atmosphere and various other insights into my weird and obsessive brain and writing life, I have great pleasure in being a guest on a blog tour where I do my best to answer these and many other tricky questions.

And you can follow the links below(or catch up if you miss any).

The tour contains a few thoughts about writing sprinkled with not so much my writing advice (everyone does it differently and I wouldn't presume . . .) but I so share a few tips about what works for me.
  • A Little But a Lot (17th July) Where do I write? Clue - nowhere fancy! If you think you have to wait for the perfect place, the perfect moment and have an awful lot of time - maybe think again.
  • Golden Books Girl (18th July) Plotting a mystery novel . . . the easy way.
  • Read It Daddy (22nd July) Some imaginative and challenging questions from the blogging legends that are the father/daughter reading team, Read It Daddy! Phew, dodged a few toough ones there.
  • My Shelves are Full (23rd July) An exclusive extract with Erin Lyn Hamilton, primary school teacher turned librarian. If you'd like a snatch of the opening you can find it here.
  • Mr E Primary (24th July) A breathtaking and generous review from Mr E, a primary school teacher in Wales whose blog is a one-stop treasure trove of all the best new children's writing. And he is doing a giveaway to win three sets of both books in the Seth Seppi Mystery Series!
  • Books for Topics (25th July) Another wonderful review from English lead and primary school teacher Alison Leach, in which I also discuss which Hogwarts houses my characters would be sorted into (and a little insight into how much fun it is to revisit characters)!
  • Luna's Little Library (26th July) You can get an immediate emotional connection with music, so I find music helps me write both scenes and characters. Here I muse a little about well Muse... and the creative circle of inspiration.
  • Bookbound (27th July) Another extremely thoughtful and generous book review from the wonderful Sam Thomas on her Book-bound blog. A wonderful way to finish an equally marvellous blog tour :-) 

July 04, 2019

Welcome to the Bad Luck Lighthouse

I'm thrilled to welcome you to a brand new adventure The Bad Luck Lighthouse - out now!

In spite of the title, I've actually had a great deal of good luck with this book:
  • It has another awesome illustration from the brilliant Matt Saunders. How gorgeous is that cover?
  • It has the same great editorial team at publisher Chicken House that led to so many fabulous reviews for The Last Chance Hotel.
  • Not every author gets to write a sequel with characters they love and I am pleased that this returns to the same world as featured in The Last Chance Hotel. You can join Seth and his cat Nightshade and his magical friend, Angelique, as they get to tackle another case for the magical police MagiCon and help to solve it along with Inspector Pewter.
Over the last few years, I've been excited to share with you my writing and publishing journey - from winning the Times / Chicken House Fiction Prize, to printing of the book, publication, and the complicated, bewildering but always rewarding world of being an author. It has been an amazing journey to where children are reading and enjoying your book - and telling you about it!

Along the way, this has involved wonderful window displays in Waterstonesincredible support from readers, schools and independent booksellerstranslations of Seth and Nightshade into other languages - and even music inspired by the characters themselves.

So enough about me being excited, I hope others will get excited about the next part of Seth and Nightshade's story. Here's a taster of what is to come:

"In uncovering the mystery of The Last Chance Hotel, Seth has discovered a dazzling world of magic and is determined to prove himself.

But he and Nightshade get embroiled in the latest MagiCon case of ghostly goings on at the remote Snakesmouth Lighthouse owned by the eccentric Mina Mintencress.

When Mina is murdered, Seth must work out if the vengeful ghost of Soul Snakesmouth has really returned. Because if this time magic is responsible, it’s a darker and even more disturbing magic that even Seth ever knew existed.

Seth and Nightshade must use all their best detective and magical skills to solve this mystery. Can they unlock the key to the hauntings and unmask a sinister sorcerer . . . before it’s too late?"

Thanks to Pam Norfolk for this great review in the Lancashire Post:

I really want to say a big 'thank you' for having had such a brilliant publishing experience and the chance to write a sequel. Also, I've had extraordinary support, enthusiasm and kindness shown to be me by the wonderful bookselling world.

So here's where you can order your copy: