Trezza Azzopardi’s debut novel, The Hiding Place, was shortlisted for the Booker prize. She wrote an elegant piece for London’s Sunday Times this week about the difficulty of writing a second novel after experiencing such success with the first. Azzopardi’s piece is a stunning contrast with the Midlist Author’s Lament published earlier this week at Salon.
E L Doctorow said writing a book is like driving a car at night: even though you can only see as far as the beams of your headlamps, you can make the entire trip that way. If that’s the case, then the second book can sometimes feel like driving that same car in thick fog: your headlamps reflect only a swirl of white space, you crawl along hoping that you’re on the right road and, at times, you wonder why you ever set out in the first place.
I didn’t think it would be that way for me; I had started my second novel, Remember Me, before The Hiding Place was published: I knew the road I would take, had the map of my narrator’s journey clear from the outset, and was confident of the destination. What I hadn’t taken into account was what would happen to The Hiding Place once it went out into the world. I had nightmares towards the end of it: not that it wouldn’t get good reviews (or worse, be completely ignored), but that I would die before I finished it. It’s not uncommon to feel that way about your first novel — apparently, Ian McEwan feels that way about all his books.
For me, finishing was the important thing, and the sense of having achieved what I set out to do came as a huge relief. That was my reward, I told myself. But from the outset, The Hiding Place had a charmed existence that most first-time novelists don’t dare dream of. Even before it was published, foreign rights had been sold and the film option bought; and afterwards -well, afterwards, there was the Booker prize nomination. That time around, the Booker was thrilling and nerve-racking, and in most ways inspiring, but the aftereffect was a complete surprise. Suddenly, people were interested in what I was going to do next. Did I have a “second” book waiting in the wings? Perhaps, some suggested, there was a “first” novel stashed away in a drawer? Did I worry about the notice the nomination had brought? It instilled a sense of stage fright, only temporary, but fuelled now and then by well-wishing friends who dropped me postcards or e mails out of the blue. How was “that difficult second novel” going? It became a phrase I hated, because, truly, my second novel wasn’t being difficult at all; it was just taking the normal time — about three years — to write.