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Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Second novel reflections with Jane Lythell

Please welcome author Jane Lythell back to the blog today. Jane's second novel After the Storm (Head of Zeus) came out earlier this year and she's here to share her reflections on how she approached the project  ...

I’ve heard it said that we all have one novel in us but writing your second novel can be difficult, so I thought I would share my experience of this. When my debut novel THE LIE OF YOU was bought by Head of Zeus they offered me a two book deal. They requested a synopsis for the second book and I produced a brief treatment for an idea that had been lurking in my mind for ages. They accepted the idea and gave me a year to produce the first draft of the second novel. 
My idea was that two couples meet one night in Belize City, an English couple, Rob and Anna, and an American couple, Owen and Kim, who have an old sailing boat they have been living on for three years. Owen suggests they charter his boat and he will take them to the island of Roatan. Anna does not want to go at all but Rob is really keen and he persuades her to board. Unknown to them Kim is desperate to go home to Florida. It is Owen who is determined to continue their life on the boat. Straightaway we have conflict of wishes between the four characters and a boat can be a very claustrophobic place when tensions start to build.
Was it difficult to write this book? My honest answer is not really. I’ve been to these places and I always felt they would make a great setting for a novel. What helped me was that I kept a journal and took photos while I was there. (I’m an inveterate keeper of journals!) These were a great source which enabled me to build the atmosphere of the island. The Roatan in my novel is sun-soaked and stunning on the surface but with something dark underneath.
I was thrilled to have the two book deal but as it turned out this meant that I delivered the first draft of AFTER THE STORM at exactly the same time as THE LIE OF YOU was being published. This was a strange experience. I was promoting my debut as well editing the second book so that my mind kept moving between the characters in each book. The two books are very different and I think you are always more involved with the book and the characters you are currently writing. So I had to pull myself away from Rob, Anna, Owen and Kim in order to talk about Heja and Kathy at literary festivals and book clubs. I’m not complaining. It was exciting and demanding and I know how lucky I am to be in this position.
You learn about writing from doing the writing. I think I learned a lot about how to tell a story from my first book. In AFTER THE STORM I moved to third person narration because with four characters you can’t do first person. Well in theory you could but it would be a major challenge.
And what now? Head of Zeus has commissioned a third novel from me and I’m writing this now. It is set in the febrile world of live television with all its monster egos! It is told from the point of view of the central female character who is a TV executive, divorced, and with a stroppy teenage daughter. I’m enjoying pulling up memories from my life as a TV producer. It’s scheduled for publication in June 2016.

LINKS to After The Storm:

About Jane Lythell:
I live in Brighton, UK, and I'm a sea-lover, star-gazer, film and football fan.
My novels THE LIE OF YOU and AFTER THE STORM are published by Head of Zeus.
My background is journalistic writing and television production. I was a Producer at TV-am and Commissioning Editor of Features at Westcountry Television. I left to become Deputy Director of the British Film Institute and later Chief Executive of BAFTA before joining the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for seven years. I now write full time. I love to hear from readers and you can find me here:
Twitter: @janelythell 
Facebook: Jane Lythell Author
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Thank you, Jane, for sharing your reflections. Definitely agree that you 'learn about writing from doing the writing'. I loved how you set After the Storm in the beautiful Caribbean, yet portrayed it's very real sinister undertones. Now really looking forward to the next novel, which from your premise above sounds another page-turning read. 


  1. I have After the Storm on my kindle and am looking forward to reading it. It's interesting to hear how writers go about their second book - one book deals seem to be becoming a thing of the past (which is good of course).

    1. Hello Wendy. Yes having a two book deal is a help to writers as it gives you longer to establish yourself and to find readers. For me one issue was did readers expect more of the same? After the Storm is very different from The Lie of You although it still entails secrets and psychological disturbance! Hope you enjoy.

  2. It does seem a good sign, Wendy. Thanks for stopping by.

    1. Thank YOU Tracy for suggesting such an interesting topic. I enjoyed thinking about it.

  3. Thank you, Tracy and Jane, for these fascinating reflections and congratulations on having a third novel in the pipeline. I especially like and agree with the idea of learning about writing from doing the writing. I think each book serves you well for the next, even if the next is completely different. Wishing you all the best.

    1. Good point Joanna. Writing is a craft you can only learn by doing it.
      The key issue of what point of view to tell the story from interests me. In The Lie of You I used two first person voices to get right into the heads of my two main characters. In After the Storm I moved to third person but still would show scenes from different characters' point of view. This creates a less intense voice. In my third novel I am telling it in the first person again from a single character.
      Each of these options offer pros and cons but I think you can feel your way to the best option according to your tale.

    2. Completely agree, Joanna, and I think we never stop learning as we write (thank goodness). Also best wishes for the launch of your debut novel which I believe is approaching soon!

  4. I found my second easier than the first as by then I'd learned it's a good idea to have some vague idea where the story might go and roughly what genre it's going to be before I'm 50,000 words in.

    1. Glad to hear this, Patsy, as I'm finding the first one hard enough! And CONGRATULATIONS on Writing Magazine competition win - that's brilliant news!