So here we are.
Thirteen months on from the publication of Vanished, Never Coming Back is finally on shelves. It's with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I see it there: I'm not sure the buzz you get from finishing a book, and especially from seeing it out there in the wild, will ever pass (and, in fact, I hope it doesn't). Likewise, I suspect that feeling of trepidation won't be easily shifted either. I worry about all sorts of things with a new book. Will it sell? Will people like it? Was it the best book I could possibly have written? What could I have done differently – and better?
Those first two – Will it sell? Will people like it? – I basically have no control over, so in a way there's little point in worrying about it. (Ha! This is me talking. Of course I'll worry about it.) But was Never Coming Back the best book I could possibly have written at this point in time? I think so, yes. Could I have done something differently – or better? Maybe differently, but probably not better. That's not to say the book is perfect – I'm sure it isn't – but it's as good as it can be right now, given everything I've learnt as a writer over the last 4-5 years. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay it – if, indeed, it's alright to pay a compliment to something you've created yourself – is that I seriously doubt it's a book I could have written two or three years ago. I've talked quite a lot on this page about writing's vertical learning curve - and, in a way, this is the result of that. I'm still scaling the curve, of course, but if Never Coming Back says anything, my hope is that it speaks of ambition and scale, and my ability now to paint something bigger.
As one launches, so another continues. Book 5 has been, and continues to be, hard. In a lot of ways, it's the total opposite of Never Coming Back. That was also a testing write, but the hardest part was meshing all the elements together. The actual structure of the book – the nuts and bolts: characters, locations, narrative – were very clear to me all the way through. Book 5 is a more intimate story in some ways, and yet a harder one to pin down. My original plan hit the buffers at 20,000 words: it felt too small and too under-developed. Then, at 85,000 words I realised it had become too big, so had to scale it back, and hack a whole sub-plot out. Now I think it's about right - but, of course, it's only 70-75% done, so plans could yet change again. In fact, given past experience, I think it's probably safe to assume they will!
What's a priority - for me, at least - is that Book 5 is different to the previous books. It would be hard to recreate the events of Never Coming Back, for reasons that will become clear once you've read it, but I think it would be easy to go back to the first three books, and to seek some comfort in the fundamental building blocks of those novels. In short, it would be easy to reskin some of those places and characters, some of the twists and narrative kinks, and at the end of it, I'd probably have a half-decent novel. But readers are smart. They'd see through the facade. And, what I would also do by making that decision, is settle for something less than I hoped. For me, part of scaling that learning curve is being brave enough to make the next leap – and every book should be a leap. How much of a leap Never Coming Back is, and whether people respond to its change of direction, I guess I'll see over the coming weeks. I'm not nervous. Oh no. Not at all.
Author of the David Raker novels