Sunday, 10 October 2021

The Weird World Of The Sequel - by Alan McClure

 First of all, hello folks! This is my first blog post for ABBA, and I’m fair pleased to be in such illustrious company. I’m grateful, too, for the obligation to write something, because I’ve just finished a fairly lengthy project and that often leaves me at a bit of a loose end. The project in question was a sequel to my first novel, Callum and the Mountain, so I thought I’d share some thoughts on the weird world of the sequel.


I had no intention of writing a sequel to Callum – that book ended the way I wanted it to and I thought I was finished with the world it inhabited. However, having taken the book into a few schools, I noticed that the first question the kids tended to ask was, “When’s the sequel coming out?” And frankly, that was far too much for my ego to resist.

I found the experience extremely odd. On the one hand, the chance to revisit places and characters that I already knew and loved was a privilege, and most of those characters welcomed me back with open arms. It wasn’t hard to devise a new plot for them to experience, or to imagine the landscape in a different season.

But the thing is, I wrote the first book in precious stolen moments while I was teaching full time, and I’d no real expectation that anyone would ever read it. The narrative voice came out entirely naturally and was fairly distinctive (I hope). Second time round, though, and with another, unrelated novel out and ready for promotion, I wasn’t sure if I could recapture that voice. Knowing that some people are actually going to read the thing shifts the goal posts to a huge degree, and the last thing I wanted to do was slip into self-parody or work too hard at recreating something that seemed quite a long way off. I’d had some positive reactions for including Scots vocabulary in the first book (just words which I use naturally myself) – should I focus on that aspect? Maybe ramp it up a bit? Or was that language the reason the book didn’t sell better? The kids are older now (Callum is fourteen, having been twelve in the first book) – should I self-consciously get into YA themes to catch the teen market? Do I really have anything left to say about this place, these people?

Partly thanks to these quandaries, and partly thanks to a certain pandemic you may have heard about, the writing process was infinitely slower and harder than it had been before. I was weighted down by knowing what people had enjoyed in Callum and the Mountain and not knowing whether I should do those things again, or definitely not do them again. (I’ll be curious to hear if this experience is common to those of you who have trodden this thorny path.) I’d taken a creative sabbatical from teaching and so theoretically had all the time in the world to complete the book, but this in itself became an obstacle because, my goodness, what excuse could I possibly have for not doing the perfect job? And then came lockdowns, kids at home, all the things that have been interrupting everybody’s best-laid plans.

Anyway, in fits and starts the story formed itself, and in time it gained a life of its own. Some days whole chapters flowed with ease, others I’d struggle over a particular word or phrase for six hours while my long-suffering wife got on with her actual, proper job around me. But it’s done! Drafted, redrafted, shoogled about and polished. On Thursday morning I bit the bullet and sent it off to Debbie McGowan of Beaten Track, my saintly publisher, and I await her remarks with trepidation and excitement.

Wish me luck, folks, and I hope one day in the not too distant future I’ll be able to direct you to a shiny new book!


Joan Lennon said...

Hi there, Alan, and welcome aboard! And I agree - sequels are weird. First, second, third, thirteenth, gazillionth books are also weird. Writing. Weird.

Congratulations on pressing Send!

Penny Dolan said...

Well done and good luck with your sequel! A fine fist post on ABBA too!

I so agree with you about sequel problems, especially the way that characters and language - your own and what I'd call public language - changes slightly over time.

Rowena House said...

Epic journey! Huge congratulations on getting to the end of it amid all the stuff that is going on around us. I think having the time formally allocated to 'being creative' is a killer, to which a monthly ABBA blog is a brilliant antidote. A space of our own, with an interested audience, and the metronome of our craft ticking away in the background. Welcome. I hope it brings stimulation and satisfaction. It does for me. Good luck with acquisitions, too! :o)

Nick Green said...

Such a vexing thing, the sequel dilemma. Do you put in more of the stuff that was in the first one (and so effectively plagiarise yourself), or do you try to recapture the same *energy* that drove the first one - which may be more original, but might result in a very different end product?

One thing I do like about sequels is that one is freed from the business of introducing the main character. I remember, years ago, reading the second Harry Potter book having not read the first, and discovering how easy it was just to fall into the world of the story, despite no introduction to it. It was like a revelation: you don't actually need to be introduced. So long as the author knows the characters well, the reader is happily carried along.

Good luck with the sequel! The best kind of sequel is the one that readers have asked for.

Alan McClure said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan McClure said...

Thanks Rowena! Yes, having a couple of definite dates in the diary really makes a difference - gives you something to plan around, doesn't it!

Alan McClure said...

Thanks Nick! Aye, seeking that nebulous energy that got the world built in the first place, that was a challenge. I hope I got there - will need to see what readers think (gulp).

Alan McClure said...

Oops - sorry Penny, that was meant for Joan - but thanks for your kind comments! We'll see how we go...