Today I am thrilled to have author Chris Whitaker on my blog! Chris is coming along to Bibliomaniac's Dazzling Debut book event next week to talk about life as author and his novel Tall Oaks. On my blog today, he is talking about that "difficult second book" so without further ado I am going to leave you with him! Enjoy!
Difficult Second Book Syndrome
I’d heard the rumours from other authors. Book 2 is tough they said. Really tough.
Though I didn’t realise just how tough until it came to handing in the first draft. I’d worked on it for a couple of years but when I sat down with my editor I asked if I could have an extension. I didn’t know why, it just no longer felt right. Something had changed.
So what was it?
I didn’t really know. Not at first. So I called bestselling author G.J. Minett for some sage advice. Book 2 was a piece of piss, he said. I knocked it out in three weeks and it’s already sold 50,000 copies. The f**kers out there will read anything I put my name to.
Hmm. Thanks, G.J.
Next I turned to David Young, of Stasi Child/Wolf fame. But he was busy touring the country in his sexy police car, flashing the lights and running the siren when the hoards of ‘Youngsters’ (like ‘Beliebers’ but much older) got too close to him.
I wondered how they did it. Was I alone?
Thankfully not. Step forward, Alex Caan. Two weeks till deadline and Alex had written 500 words. This was a man I could relate to. Maybe it’s the pressure, he said.
And that was it.
Book 1 I had nothing. No deadline, no expectations, and no guarantee anyone would ever read it. Book 2 I had an agent, an editor, a team of people at my publishers, and the bloggers and readers who really enjoyed Tall Oaks, and they were all waiting for it.
Then there was my contract. A two book deal. Mess up book 2 and it’s all over. No more religiously checking awful Amazon rankings. No more crying over the 1-stars. No more driving 300 miles to speak to three people about a book they borrowed from the library and didn’t bother reviewing.
I couldn’t let the dream die. I’d had a taste of published-author-life and I wanted more.
So I took a step back for a while, and I slowly began to see it was still me, sitting alone at my desk, trying to tell a story.
Nothing had really changed.
And once I got my head around that I began to see what I didn’t like about book 2. The concept was sound, but I knew the voice, the characters and the setting weren’t. Big changes. I knew it would be tough, almost like starting again, but I owed it to myself, and to everyone that took a chance on Tall Oaks, to do better.
And now, almost three years since I first came up with the idea, I’m very close to having a finished draft. And thanks to Joel and Bec (my supremely talented editors), it’s book I’m so incredibly proud to follow Tall Oaks with.
Thanks Chris! So glad to hear that book 2 is now back on track - I am one of those bloggers desperate to read it!! I will be looking out for All the Wicked Girls in October!
And for those of you that haven't yet read Tall Oaks (shame on you!) here's all you need to know!
For fans of Twin Peaks and The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, this brilliant debut is dark yet hilarious, suspenseful and sad.
Everyone has a secret in Tall Oaks . . .
When three-year-old Harry goes missing, the whole of America turns its attention to one small town.
Everyone is eager to help. Everyone is a suspect.
Desperate mother Jess, whose grief is driving her to extreme measures.
Newcomer Jared, with an easy charm and a string of broken hearts in his wake.
Photographer Jerry, who's determined to break away from his controlling mother once and for all.
And, investigating them all, a police chief with a hidden obsession of his own . . .
In Chris Whitaker's brilliant and original debut novel, missing persons, secret identities and dangerous lies abound in a town as idiosyncratic as its inhabitants.
More about Chris:
Chris Whitaker was born in London and spent ten years working as a financial trader in the city. His debut novel, Tall Oaks, was published to critical acclaim in 2016 by Bonnier Zaffre. Tall Oaks was a Guardian crime book of the month as well as featuring in Crime Time’s top 100 books of 2016 and BuzzFeed’s incredible summer reads.
Chris’s second novel, All The Wicked Girls, will be published in autumn 2017. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two young sons.
Follow Chris on Twitter @WhittyAuthor
Bibliomaniac's Review of Tall Oaks:
This is a great debut - that reads with the accomplishment and finesse of a much more established writer- set in small town America where 3 year old Harry has gone missing. Although the mystery of his disappearance is the main strand of the story, it is actually more a vehicle around which Whitaker can explore the different lives of the inhabitants. As the town works to uncover the truth behind Harry's disappearance, further lies, hidden pasts, secret ambitions, obsessions, relationships and all the other fascinating stories behind the people that live there, are revealed through wit, humour, pathos and empathy. As the blurb promises, this really is a "dark yet hilarious, suspenseful and sad" read.
The writing is vivid, engaging, lively and full of great dialogue and action. The book opens with the harrowing disappearance of Harry and the palpable grief of his mother Jess. Jim, the detective in charge of the case, is clearly deeply affected by the event as well. We are then, with each new chapter or section, introduced to more characters, each with their own complications. There is a lot to keep up with at the beginning and although a little overwhelmed, I was compelled to read on as I wondered how the threads were related and how they might converge as the novel progressed. Whitaker sets a healthy pace; the short chapters and alternating voices make it a very filmic read. Some of the characters bring humour and entertainment which counteracts the sadness of Jess's loss and the intensity of the narratives from her and Jim. There is a good balance.
Whitaker's ability to evoke such a range of scenarios is commendable. His presentation of small town America and the characters within it are completely convincing. Tall Oaks should be a picture perfect town with perfect white picket fences yet Whitaker manages to unnerve the reader with a prevailing sense of foreboding. His sense of location is very clearly established and it is easy to relate to all the characters whether they are likeable or not, vulnerable or strong. Reading this book was like binging on a box set. Other reviewers have compared it to "Fargo", "Twin Peaks" and "The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair". It certainly has that quirky, original, gripping feel. Personally it also felt to me like a rather dark version of "Desperate Housewives"!
Once half way through, I found the novel picked up further in pace and drama. I really enjoyed the story of Jerry and his mother - Whitaker's depiction of madness and control was purposefully despicable, unpleasant and shocking. Then Jim's obsession with Jess gave Whitaker an opportunity to explore the complex emotions of a police officer who gets over involved in a case. It certainly was a case of "just one more chapter..." (or "one more episode"!)which has always been my downfall and the true sign of a great book!
This book follows characters at transitional points in their lives; a time of challenging personal choices, change and new starts. Tall Oaks is a place which means different things to different people, whether it's somewhere to hide or somewhere to run from, a place of safety or a place of threat. It is compulsive rather than gripping, full of hard punches but not shocking. It has elements of a comedy, a thriller, a police procedural novel and lots of drama. The ending was absolutely suburb. Amazing. It was so well executed.
At the end of the novel, Abe says to Manny as they prepare to move on in their lives, it's the "end of an era". That's definitely how I felt when I (reluctantly) turned the last page.
I would highly recommend this book.
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