The Difficult Second Album
Happy New Year to you all. I’m writing today to talk about my new book which came out this week.
You’ll note the title of the blog post is “The Difficult Second Album.” This term refers to bands who’ve had some initial early success and then attempt to try something else, which isn’t always well received by fans of their original work.
This is a difficulty I believe that we as writers also face. Let me begin by saying that I absolutely love writing The Time Bubble books. I can scarcely believe I have clocked up thirteen of them in less than nine years. They have enabled me to achieve my ambition of becoming a full-time writer for a living, thanks to the strong and supportive fan base that they have built up. If you are part of that fan base – thank you! Every sale, every review, and every little thing you do to help is appreciated by me every single day and enables me to continue to write more books.
In terms of writing The Time Bubble books, they are very complex. First I have an idea e.g. a man lives his life backwards, one day at a time. Then I’ve got to turn that into a story. Then, crucially, I’ve got to tie that story into the entire existing narrative of the series, with a convincing explanation of how it occurred. On top of all that, the idea needs to be distinctly different to what has come before to keep the series fresh. I’ve never wanted to just churn them out. To say it is quite a challenge is an understatement, and it is taking me up to a year to write each book.
Here is where I am with book 14. I want to do something different again. I certainly don’t want another book with Vanessa, she has run her course and that storyline is all finished now. The idea I have got has got huge potential and at this stage, I’m still fleshing it out. What I haven’t got is any convincing reason as to why what is happening in the story is happening. The journey itself is all part of the fun, but ultimately you have to have some sort of resolution. The idea for Cause of Death began like this – so I am going to put two people in a holiday resort and have them die over and over again. At the start, I had no idea why, but I figured it out in the end. That is about where I am with this next book.
In the meantime, let’s talk about that difficult second album. So, here is where I am. I said earlier I was getting by on what I earn from The Time Bubble books, but as we all know, there’s a cost-of-living crisis in the country. I’ve hungry mouths to feed, soaring energy bills, mortgage etc so I’m facing the same issue as everyone else – I need to earn more money. I can’t demand a pay rise or go on strike, so the only way is to increase my sales. Unlike those unscrupulous retailers, I’ve no intention of putting the prices of my books up – why sting you when you’ve got bills to pay too? It’s self-defeating anyway – put the price up and get fewer sales. Simple economics.
I’ve long wanted to expand my writing into other areas, and hence the concept of the Ronnie and Bernard books was born. It came from an idea cooked up between me and a couple of actor friends, one of whom, Michael Livesley, wrote some of the dialogue that made it into this book. The idea of this book was to do something different. We are both in our fifties and nostalgic for the simpler times of our youth, when entertainment was something to be enjoyed, without the politics that pervades everywhere these days. If you watch almost any soap, drama, comedy or documentary produced by the major networks these days you may have noticed that they are packed full of moral messaging about what you should or shouldn’t be doing, thinking, eating etc. Now it doesn’t matter if you agree with those messages or not, in my case I don’t want to feel I’m being lectured every time I sit down to watch some light entertainment.
This is part of what I wanted to achieve with this book. The series is intended to be much lighter than The Time Bubble and rooted very much in the style of the era. I’ve deliberately made the characters uncomplicated and packed the book out with cliches and references to the era – this is all tongue-in-cheek and quite deliberate. So if it’s a bunch of hapless Roman soldiers blundering about like Keystone Cops in a Carry-on film scenario, an over-the-top cackling villain like an actor hamming it up in a Tom Baker Doctor Who story, or innuendoes like you would find in a 1970s sitcom, it’s all in there.
Who are these stories designed to appeal to? People old enough to remember the seventies – so basically aged 50+, who just want a light-hearted easy read that reminds them of the good old days. There is time travel in it, but no detailed technical explanation of how it comes about. It just happens. The focus of the book is very much on comedy. I want to write something that cheers people up and makes them laugh more than anything else.
Above all, I wanted to try something different. Nobody wants to be known as a one-trick pony, and I think it might look a little odd a decade from now if I’ve got one long series with 25 books in it and nothing else.
Now I realise that this new book may be at odds with what fans of the existing series expect from me, but as I said above, I need to reach out and find a new audience if I’m going to be able to keep writing these books for a living. As things currently stand, I’m thinking I’m going to have to take on some other work – whether that be pursuing newspaper and magazine articles, or heaven forbid, the poorly paid world of copy editing, I’ve still got to pay those bills. I know, get the violins out, but there it is. Of course, if I end up having to do other work, it takes time away from writing the books. That means longer waits between them and none of us wants that.
I loaded up the book with some trepidation. Would the existing fans like it? Would I be able to find my new audience? No matter how many times you release a new book, it’s always nerve-wracking, but that was especially the case with this one, being the first of a new series. So you can’t begin to imagine how sick to the pit of my stomach I was to see the first review come in, a negative 2-star one. Now I get two and one-star reviews all the time, everybody does, and when they come in on a book that’s already got hundreds of reviews, they have very little impact. But when it is the only review the book has, it’s devastating and this one killed the sales stone dead. What happens in the first few days of a new book’s life on Amazon is crucial for its prospects, due to the algorithms which decide what is a good book and what is a turkey. I’m therefore feeling a little deflated this morning, though I am still going to press on with writing the second Ronnie and Bernard book which is coming along very nicely. By the time I have finished that, I should be in the right place to start the next Time Bubble book, which will be out later in the year.
To reiterate, The Crooked Line isn’t a Time Bubble book and if you don’t think from the synopsis it’s going to be your thing, I’d be the last person to urge you to go out and buy it. However, if you do have any support or positive feedback to give, I could certainly do with it right now.
You can find the new book here: The Crooked Line