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Tuesday, 2 August 2016


So, you've written a book - it's going to be (or has been) published - CONGRATULATIONS! It's a huge achievement.

But then you have to do it again. 

With my debut novel, Saving Sophie, due for ebook publication in 10 days time, I now have the daunting task of finishing writing the second. It seems that the process of writing this book is a very different one from the first for a number of reasons, and I have loads of scary questions floating around in my head. Like: 

Is my editor going to even LIKE the next book?

Will readers buy another one of my books?

What if I get writer's block?

What if I can't finish it by the deadline I've been given?

*Panic ensues*

There are many more similar questions. Having them niggle at the back of your mind can really play havoc with the creative process required to produce a good follow-up novel.

I know I'm by no means alone with my fears. So to make me feel better, I asked a fellow author to put into words her experience of second-book syndrome - which she aptly calls the Terrible Twos!

So, here goes - I'm delighted to welcome my FIRST ever guest to my blog! 

Helen Cox, author of Milkshakes and Heartbreaks at the Starlight Diner has agreed to come and chat about the anguish that is 'second-book syndrome'!

I say 'anguish' but I'm sure it conjures different feelings for different authors, which is why I've asked her to pop along and talk about it. 

Over to you, Helen!

Back in the days when I was a film journalist, I wrote a whole chapter of a book on terrible film sequels. It seemed like a pretty clever thing to do at the time, ridiculing Sandra Bullock’s fashion choices in Speed 2: Cruise Control and lamenting the cultural insensitivity of Sex and the City 2

When I sat down to write my own sequel at the beginning of this year however, my sense of humour evaporated. 

Alright, as I make a joke out of almost everything that’s a slight exaggeration, but it was clear from chapter one that writing the follow up to my first novel Milkshakes and Heartbreaks at the Starlight Diner was going to be even more difficult than the first had been. Considering I’d put everything I had into book one, this was far from a comforting thought.

At first, I was at a loss as to why every sentence was a struggle. I had so much more going for me than I did when I sat down to write my first novel. A guaranteed offer of publication, a previous book that had been very well-received by readers and more important than anything else, proof that I could do this. Proof that I could string together 80,000 words, give or take, in pretty much the right order and create a story that people enjoyed. And yet, the second time round it was harder. 

Why? I can sum it up in one word.


When I was writing Milkshakes, I told myself it didn’t really matter if it was any good because nobody was going to see it. A few friends, maybe. Some family members who were interested enough or too polite to say no. But getting published is really hard. There was no reason why anyone should pick me out of the crowd. So, I told myself straight to just write a story and stop kicking up a fuss.

My first draft of my first novel wasn’t very good. But I edited, edited, edited until people said it was good. And then a publisher said it was good and asked me to write a second book. A book that I knew from the beginning other people were going to get the chance to read, and judge.

A sly, small voice in my head asked: can you really do this again?

Maybe you only had one good book in you.

I had a flashback to 1999 when Kula Shaker released Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts, the follow up album to their outlandish debut ‘K’. I recalled again the heartbreak I suffered when I realised it wasn’t a strong return for them. I didn’t want to create another Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts. I wanted to write the book equivalent of the next Live Through This or Late Registration alright so I’m not hardcore enough to be either Courtney Love or Kanye West (which is probably a blessing) but, you know, I’m aiming for somewhere near that. Closer to Terminator 2: Judgement Day than Teen Wolf Too, that’s all I’m really asking here.

The only route through my unexpected quagmire of self-doubt was to remind myself that all I can ever do with any project is work my hardest and try and enjoy myself in the process. 

When I was a teacher, I always said to my students that nobody could ever ask more from them than their best, and if they knew in their hearts they’d done that, there was nothing to be ashamed or afraid of. After much grappling with my inner demon (his name’s Gordon by the way and he’s a little imp) I decided to take a bit of my own advice.

Four weeks later after some invaluable feedback from my writing partner Dean Cummings and a fellow author Helen Fields, I sent my first draft to Joanna Swainson, my agent, who came back telling me it was a delightful and thoroughly charming read. I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved about anything in my life. Not when my now-husband actually turned up to marry me on my wedding day. Not even when Woody and the gang made it out of the furnace in one piece in Toy Story 3 (spoiler alert). 

There’s still a lot of editing to be done on my second book, sure. But despite my brain doing all it could to undermine me, I managed to write a first draft of my second book that is already impressing those who’ve read it. And nobody, not even Gordon, that judgmental little imp in my head who comes out to play when I’m writing, can take that away from me.

Thanks so much, Helen - you've captured the terrible twos brilliantly! I'm going to ignore your comment about Teen Wolf Too though - you've broken my heart - Jason Bateman is the love of my life (haha!) 

You can keep up-to-date with Helen's book news on her website HERE

And follow her on Twitter HERE

Here's the blurb for Helen's debut novel, Milkshakes and Heartbreaks at the Starlight Diner:

Esther Knight is sharp, sarcastic – and hiding something. She waitresses at The Starlight Diner: a retro eatery where Fifties tunes stream out of the jukebox long into the night, and the tastiest milkshakes in New York are served.

Nobody at the diner knows why Esther left London for America – or why she repeatedly resists the charms of their newest regular, actor Jack Faber.

Esther is desperate to start a new life in the land of the free, but despite the warm welcome from the close-knit diner crowd, something from her past is holding her back. Can she ever learn to love and live again?

Milkshakes and Heartbreaks at the Starlight Diner is a witty, romantic, New York-inspired novel.

You can buy it HERE

Congratulations on the publication of Milkshakes, it's a really fabulous novel! Wishing you loads of luck with your follow-up novel - I will be following your journey with interest!

Now - off you go and finish your editing!! 

I would love to hear from other authors about their own experiences with writing second books, so please feel free to drop me a line!

Thanks for reading!

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