The Second Novel Conundrum - guest post by Damian McNicholl
I’d already completed a second manuscript prior to Gabriel’s publication. But the story was so very different. Where Gabriel is a gentle coming-out, coming-of age, the new manuscript was dark and comic, more of an urban tale with offbeat characters and a thriller element. It reflected another but no less vital side of my personality. However, people in the United States were advising that my second novel (called a ‘sophomore novel’ here) should be similar to ASCG because that’s what readers and critics expected.
For months, I stuck the finished manuscript into a desk drawer and tried to come up with another literary type story that this unknown audience would like. I researched genetic engineering but couldn’t get enthused. I started plotting a story from a dog’s point of view. I abandoned that and moved on to Mormonism, but the deeper I got into writing the story’s outline, the more I knew the protagonist’s core conflict would not support a novel. But always, from within the reaches of the shut desk drawer, the strong characters in my manuscript would enter my consciousness, insisting it was their turn, insisting that their story needed to be told just as much as Gabriel’s. There was Danny, the young Northern Irish man who fled his controlling father and fiancée for London; Piper, a twenty-two year old American woman studying at the LSE who likes her boyfriend but not the sex; Julia, the plummy-voiced immigration officer who’s a law unto herself; and meddling Agnes Hartley, Julia’s neighbour, who despises her and writes over-familiar letters to the Queen Mother. But my fears persisted that the novel was just far too different from A Son Called Gabriel’s simple story with its one subplot.
In the end, because I’ve always liked to do things my way, I decided to defy the so-called ‘conventional wisdom’ that a novelist’s second novel should be similar in voice or style to the first. I decided the finished manuscript would be my second novel and gave it the title Twisted Agendas. I spent last winter editing and re-editing, paring the story but maintaining the rich multi-layered structure and keeping the chapters fairly short because that’s something I like in a novel’s structure.
It was published recently by London’s independent publisher Legend Press and given a superb cover that conveys the work is commercial and literary rather than just purely literary fiction. Time will tell if I made the right decision but I’m feeling pretty good about it right now because I’ve had interest from a large US publisher. And the irony is that I’ve just now completed my third manuscript that’s a combination of both my A Son Called Gabriel and Twisted Agendas writing styles and voices.
here and is on Twitter @DamianMcN