I’m currently writing my fifth novel, and I’m at that well-past-halfway, exciting, totally-in-love stage, where I sort-of-know where it’s going, but things could still surprise me. My fourth – The Lion Tamer Who Lost, which I’ve already written, and began in fact six years ago – isn’t out until next year, and I’m still tweaking and editing it. But even as I do that, this fifth one is itching to get out. And it’s a whole different experience to how it was writing my first four.
This time I’m writing where there’s a good chance it will be read – and by people who have read my first four books and possibly even liked them. And that is both exhilerating and utterly terrifying. It’s like sitting backstage at a theatre and writing behind the curtain, with an expectant audience already in the auditorium. I can hear the chairs squeaking as they sit, hear the rustling of coats being removed, the low murmer of voices as they wonder aloud whether this story will be any good. I can hear them arguing back and forth that it should be the best novel yet because she’s had plenty of practice now, but then writers can get lazy after a time too.
When I wrote my first few novels, there was no book deal on the table. There wasn’t even one on the chair, or anywhere in the room. I wrote for myself. This is who you should write for first of all. If you don’t, you won’t enjoy it. I can always tell when I read a book if the writer wrote with absolute love for the story. If it was something they simply couldn’t not write. This is how mine were born. They would not stay inside me. It took four of them to finally get my deal with Orenda Books, which means I’m lucky enough to have had the time to let number five percolate over the last two years.
And it has. I had three ideas for a fifth book. One of them nagged at me with a louder voice than the others. Write me, it cried. I’m better than those other two losers! I’ve got a killer plot, a protagonist you’re a little afraid of, and all the dark, quirky themes and subplots you so love to get your teeth into! What could I do? I started.
It’s been the hardest book to find time for, and yet the one it feels I most want to devote hours to. When writing without a book deal, there’s none of the other stuff that goes along with that, stuff I adore, but stuff that all the same eats into your writing time. The promoting, doing tours and events, networking, writing pieces, blogging, and editing other work. Like many writers, I also still have my day job, and of course a family, and the need to occasionally sleep. But all of this means there’s a sort of frenzy when I write now. Recently, someone cancelled something I was supposed to be doing and it gave me five whole, unexpected hours to write. I think I danced around the room for the first ten minutes of that.
When I do write novel five, I still do it firstly for myself. But this time, I also glance out of the window occasionally, aware that there are people who may actually read it too. People who might compare it to my others. Who might hope it is one thing or another. And this is the terrfifying part. Is it what readers will expect? Do I even want that? To be the expected?
Here’s what I can promise. I have loved writing it. I have given everything I can to it. I have woken in the night and scribbled down ideas and phrases. I have laughed and cried. I have shrieked with excitement as I tell my lovely and patient daughter Katy about the latest plot reveal. I have lived and breathed it for the past few months.
The rest… well, that’s up to the world.