On Writing: Olivia Levez and The Second Book

For a debut author, the publication of your first novel feels like a dream come true. An exciting and very rewarding end to, possibly, years of blood, sweat and tears.

But now you must write your second novel which comes with a stricter deadline and the added pressure of living up to the hype and enthusiasm of your first. It’s known to some authors as Second Book Syndrome. So what are the some of the problems you come up against? And how do you deal with them without pulling all your hair out and eating every single thing in the fridge (including the mystery condiments)?

In the second part of our On Writing series, Olivia Levez talks about her experiences writing The Circus, the follow-up novel to the critically acclaimed The Island.

P.S. Olivia really had nothing to worry about as The Circus is an exceptional YA novel with a truly distinctive voice – check it out!
Olivia Levez The Circus launch

Olivia at the launch for The Circus

Writing a second book is hard. Really hard. The first one is written for yourself, with the freedom to explore, to be creative, to find your own style, to dip in and out of different writing methods, to lose yourself in words. That feeling of being in the zone, utterly at one with your writing and your passion. No one’s looking over your shoulder, not really.

Then comes the second, and the deadline looms just as you’re in mid publication frenzy for your first ever published book. This time it’s different: as well as writing the thing, you have your daily life to maintain, complete with job, (in my case lesson planning, teaching, exam marking), and family commitments and all of the tiny things that make up your daily existence. Eating. Food. That sort of thing. But this time, there’s another set of pressures, because now you have to learn how to be a self promotion guru, a whizz at keeping up with the white noise and nuances of social media; an organiser of events, school visits, trips to London, split train tickets, best Premier Inn offers; an arranger of school assemblies, book tours, book sales.

And somehow, in the midst of all of this, you have to try to find the time and head space to write another book. You have to keep your head clear as reviews come in, news of others’ successes, triumphs, fellow authors who all seem to be doing bigger and better things than you. You have to not cringe as you post yet another promo author post on Facebook, wondering whether your friends are truly sick of the sight of you and your damned book yet.

It’s hard. And scary.

I hit the wall three times at 30,000 words with The Circus and each time had to start from scratch. It got so that I started to sweat as my word-count crept up to the 27,000 mark, wondering when that truly awful blankness and book hatred would strike. And it did. Every time. By far my best circus act with this one was Hitting The Wall: a death defying feat of pure unperformance and inaction.

Slam. Three times.

What should I do? My deadline was scarily close, and all I really had to show for it was a girl named Willow and a few nicely described circus scenes. What did she want? I wasn’t sure. Why was she running away? I didn’t really know. Where was she actually running to? Nope. Didn’t know that one either.

I did have her voice though. I knew she had a story to tell, if I could only access it and stop panicking. In the end I took a deep breath and sent my agent, Clare Wallace, an email with the header: HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

She phoned me straight away and listened calmly as I hiccupped my way through all of my worries and frets. Within the hour she had got my deadline extended, offered practical help with my upcoming launch and reassured me that she got this a lot from debut authors and I wasn’t alone. Immediately the huge burden had lifted and I was able to focus on enjoying the publication of The Island.

Clare gave me permission not to write anything at all for a few weeks. And paradoxically, because I wasn’t supposed to be writing, the ideas came flooding in. I grabbed the dog, took myself off to my caravan and sat outside the pub with a pint of SA, staring over unspeakably beautiful Cardigan Bay, daydreaming.

And that’s when it came to me. Willow needed a friend. Of course she did. She needed someone to complement her spoilt selfishness and lighten up the darker moments of her experience of being on the streets. I thought about my favourite film, The Midnight Cowboy, the poignant tale of a naïve country boy seeking his fortune in New York City, starring Jon Voight as Joe Buck and Dustin Hoffman as his trickster friend, Ratso. That was it:

Willow Stephens needed her Ratso.

So Suz was born, Willow’s companion through all of her adventures. She was already present in my story, although I hadn’t realised it. In an early scene I had a brief description of a homeless girl feeding ham to the pigeons in Charing Cross, and this girl grew to become Suz, Willow’s friend and circus manager.

Next, how to fix the setting? Originally, The Circus was set in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, an evocative town which manages to be seedy, magical, squalid and glamorous all at the same time. I’d visited Plovdiv the previous autumn as part of my research and watched children throwing each other up into the air on trampolines outside its Cirque Balkanski. Miniature ponies pulled at trampled grass in the circus grounds – a carpark outside Lidl. I sat in our hire car, scribbling notes and watching. I loved the juxtaposition between the tawdry and the surreal. Those descriptions made their way straight into my circus adventure, but I kept drawing to a halt every time I tried to get Willow there. How to get a runaway to Bulgaria? I didn’t have enough technical information, hadn’t had time to travel by train to follow her possible journey.

I tried setting it in Paris, made her a stowaway in a coach (that was the second draft that grinded to a half at 30,000 words). No good. Panic.

Then I visited my brother in Hastings. Immediately I stepped off the train I knew I had found my setting. Hastings has it all: edge, street performers, a creative vibe, down-at-heel bits, upmarket bits, tattiness, an ineffably lovely seafront and plenty of weird and wonderful places for Willow to stay as she attempted to find the circus and herself.

Suz. Hastings: the missing ingredients. The rest was a whizz to write, a breeze after all of the juggling acts, the tightrope walk, the knife edge.

Ultimately, there was the final performance: an amazing book launch at my school, complete with talented student and staff performers!

What have I learnt about writing book two? What I’ve always known, what all writers know in their hearts. You’ll get there. Just keep doing what you’re doing, one wobbling step at a time.

The show must go on.

The Circus was published by Oneworld on 4 May 2017. Follow Olivia on Twitter: @livilev

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Agency Newsletter: April

Some highlights from last month at the agency, hope you all enjoy!

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John Connolly and Lee Child – No.1 Bestsellers

We were incredibly proud to see two of our authors secure the highly-coveted No.1 spot – and even more so that it was simultaneous!

Back with the 15th novel in his outstanding Charlie Parker series, John Connolly soared to the top spot with A Game of Ghosts, beating Wilbur Smith’s War Cry and several other well established authors.

This is the second consecutive year that John has gone straight to No.1 on the hardback list.

And the paperback of Night School, the 21st Jack Reacher novel from Lee Child went straight to No.1 with an emphatic lead ahead of the No.2 bestseller, and it stayed comfortably in the top spot for four weeks.

Both authors held the No.1 spot simultaneously for two weeks.

An amazing achievement for both authors and for the agency.

Annie Murray is a No.6 Bestseller

It was a record-breaking month at the agency, Annie Murray’s latest novel The Doorstep Child rocketed into the No.6 spot on the bestsellers chart – the highest position in her career so far.

The Doorstep Child is Annie’s 21st book and is the third novel in a trilogy, featuring 2016’s Now The War Is Over and 2015’s War Babies.

All three novels have been Sunday Times bestsellers.

Tana French – Richard & Judy Book Club

We are thrilled to announce that The Trespasser, the sixth Dublin Murder Squad thriller from Tana French, has been selected for the Richard & Judy Book Club Summer Reads.

The Trespasser is a No.2 New York Times bestseller and won Crime Fiction Book of the Year 2016 at the BGE Irish Book Awards.

It was named as one of the best books of 2016 by Time, Guardian, Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, among others.

It’s no wonder when Tana can count Stephen King, Gillian Flynn, Kate Mosse, Ian Rankin and Sophie Hannah as some of her fans.

Make sure to check out the R&J podcast in July for an interview with Tana.

Martina Cole – Anniversary Events

Special and exclusive events are happening across the UK to celebrate 25 years of record-breaking bestsellers from the one and only, Martina Cole.

In June, the prolific author will be in London, Scarborough, Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester discussing the iconic Dangerous Lady and her most recent novel, Betrayal.

Don’t miss your opportunity to see the Queen of Crime in conversation, visit martinacole.co.uk for all the details.

DA Children’s Agency News

The Forever Court by Dave Rudden went straight to No.6 in the Irish bestsellers chart!

The second instalment in the exciting Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy was launched with a bang at the packed-out event in Dublin. Eoin Colfer, bestselling author of the Artemis Fowl book and former Children’s Laureate introduced Dave at the event and said that The Forever Court was ‘forged in ginger flames and will transcend expectations’.

The Guardian gave a rave review, saying, ‘Surpasses his award-winning first novel in humour, menace, Machiavellian plotting and crystalline prose’.

 

 

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On Writing: Cesca Major talks Plot

For any writer, first time or otherwise, you are inevitably going to come up against some issues with your plot: Is there enough drama in the second half? How do I get from A to B in an exciting and original way? Who should I kill off next?

In the first of our ‘On Writing’ blog posts, Cesca Major, author of the evocative and beautifully written The Silent Hours and The Last Night gives you 3 Top Tips on how to get yourself out of a plotting rut.

The Last Night is out in paperback on Thursday 4th May. 

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Agency Newsletter: March

Yes, it’s true, there’s two! Here’s the March edition, you know what to do. Again, any trouble with the link to Agency Newsletter: March 2017, don’t worry, just scroll underneath the image for all the articles.

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Chris Carter is a No.1 UK Bestseller

It is an absolute pleasure to announce that Chris Carter’s The Caller is a No.1 UK Bestseller.

His eighth Robert Hunter serial killer thriller has beaten Joanna Trollope, Neil Gaiman and Katie Fforde to the top spot on the Sunday Times bestseller chart.

This is Chris’ first No.1, topping his personal best at No.5, and many of his previous titles in the series have been Top 10 UK Bestsellers. As well as having a loyal UK readership, Chris has also achieved huge international success. His titles have been translated into 17 languages and in Germany, one of the biggest book markets in the world, he is a consistent mega-seller.

Chris’ ability to write such convincing killer novels comes from his previous career as a criminal behaviour psychologist, where he interviewed and studied criminals including serial and multiple murderers serving life. In an article for the Mirror he said, ‘I interviewed killers who were as charming, funny and charismatic as a chat show host.’

Congratulations to such a hardworking author who truly deserves his success.

Gillian McAllister débuts at No.6

Gillian McAllister’s arresting début novel, Everything But The Truth, has soared into the charts becoming a No.6 Sunday Times bestseller.

Published by Michael Joseph on 6th March, Gillian scored lots of pre-publication reviews and has since had her novel reviewed in national magazines and press.

The buzz is rightly huge for this emotionally charged novel which makes you question the line between right and wrong.

DA authors dominate Kindle Bestsellers

The Agency has been riding high in the digital charts with three authors hitting the Top 5.

Kerry Fisher’s absorbing, The Silent Wife, went into No.2 on the Kindle bestseller chart and was also a No.1 iBooks and No.2 Kobo bestseller.

TM Logan’s gripping, LIES, scored a No.3 hit on both the Kindle and iBooks chart. And K.L. Slater’s page-turning, BLINK, went to No.2 on the Kindle chart.

At one time, DA Agency authors made up a quarter of the Top 20 with B.A. Paris’ The Breakdown and Martina Cole’s Dangerous Lady boosting the number to five.

Congratulations all!

Dangerous Lady continues to thrill

In Martina Cole’s 25th anniversary year, her very first novel, Dangerous Lady, has rocketed back into the bestseller chart.

The iconic novel launched Martina Cole’s phenomenal career and has been released as a special anniversary edition in hardback. Dangerous Lady also made a splash on the digital charts, reaching No.12!

We can say with great confidence that is just the beginning of a very special year for the undisputed Queen of Crime.

Needlework nominated

Deirdre Sullivan’s stunning YA novel, Needlework, has been nominated for a CBI Book of the Year Award 2017.

The CBI Book Awards are literary awards presented annually in the Republic of Ireland to writers and illustrators of books for children and young people. Previous winners include Eoin Colfer and John Boyne.

Congratulations, Deirdre!

A Seven-Letter Word wins

Kim Slater’s second Carnegie nominated novel, A Seven-Letter Word, has won the St Helen’s Libraries Book Awards (BASH) 2017.

The St Helen’s Book Award is a fantastic regional Book Award scheme for secondary school pupils, celebrating fiction for ages 11-18.

A huge congratulations to Kim!

 

 

 

 

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Agency Newsletter: February

Hi again,

A sheepish return to the blog as this newsletter comes a little later than anticipated. However, rest assured the reason for delay is all due to a staggeringly busy couple of months. With the London and Bologna book fairs, this is one of the most exciting times of the year but very much requires an ‘all hands on deck’ approach.

Anyway, it’s here now. I’ll let the newsletter speak for itself, so much exciting stuff. If you are having trouble with the link to Agency Newsletter: February 2017, scroll down for all of the articles.

Happy Wednesday!

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Margaret Dickinson is a Top 10 smash hit!

The Queen of Saga returns with another bestselling novel. Daughters of Courage, the sequel to Top 10 bestseller The Buffer Girls, soared to No.9 after its first full week of sales.

This is Margaret’s 24th novel and second year in a row she has been a Sunday Times Bestseller. Her loyal readership got the chance to meet her at a number of signings which took place across the UK.

Margaret even made an appearance on BBC’s Bargain Hunt, discussing the legacy of the Buffer Girls of Sheffield and how they inspired her characters and their stories.

Margaret is highly regarded by everyone she works with for having an incredible work ethic and Darley Anderson has said, ‘She is the constant professional in everything she does. No one deserves success more than she does.’ We couldn’t agree more.

Congratulations Margaret, here’s to the many more successes to come.

The Breakdown is a UK bestseller

The hotly anticipated second novel from the international début sensation, B.A. Paris, has rocketed into the Bestsellers chart.

The Breakdown soared to No.11 on the Sunday Times Bestsellers, and also made a huge splash on iBooks going straight to No.1 and on Amazon’s Kindle Chart, as a No.6 bestseller. Since first appearing in the Kindle Top 20, The Breakdown has not dropped out!

We are so proud of our author and cannot wait to see what happens next!

DA Children’s Agency News

It’s been a fantastic month for the Children’s Agency. Three of our authors have been longlisted for Reading Rampage 2017. Polly Ho-Yen’s Where Monsters Lie, Kim Slater’s Smart and Vanessa Altin’s The Pomegranate Tree have all been chosen for the city wide event in Leicester which aims to promote Reading for Pleasure to children and young people.

And Dave Rudden’s Knights of the Borrowed Dark has won the Most Read Award at the SLA Great Reads Awards. Instead of a trophy, the students gave him a light bulb as a nod to one of the most memorable parts of the story.

Congratulations to all!

Catherine Steadman joins DA Agency

We are absolutely thrilled to welcome new talent Catherine Steadman to the Darley Anderson Agency! Her novel, Something In The Water, is an unpredictable and darkly funny début, with an utterly compelling voice.

Kate Miciak from Bantam Bell snapped up the US rights at auction and said, ‘From the opening sentence to its final gorgeous revelation, I was enthralled…I read the pages in one greedy gulp…and then couldn’t stop obsessing about it.’ Italian translation rights were pre-empted overnight and Swedish rights have already sold.

Catherine is a Laurence Olivier Award nominated actress and writer based in North London. She is known for her roles in Downton Abbey and Tutankhamun, starring alongside Sam Neill, as well as shows including The Inbetweeners and The Tudors.

Dangerous Lady returns

The first novel from the inimitable Martina Cole, Dangerous Lady, returns in a very special 25th anniversary hardback edition.

Over the course of her illustrious year, Martina has sold sixteen million print copies and 1.2 million e-books.

And Dangerous Lady was the book that started it all.

The Last Night takes Bronze

We are thrilled to announce that The Last Night by Cesca Major won the Bronze Award in the Historical Fiction category of TBC Charlie Awards. The Book Club is an online reading group made up of over 6500 compulsive readers and approximately 900 authors. Every year the TBC Charlie Awards celebrate the authors with prizes awarded in 16 different categories.

Congratulations Cesca!

CWA Dagger in the Library

We are delighted to announce that Tana French has been longlisted for the prestigious Dagger in the Library Award for the CWA Daggers 2017!

The Dagger in the Library recognises the author’s entire body of work rather than just one book.

Congratulations Tana!

 

 

 

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Martina’s 25th Anniversary Gift

Martina Cole teamed up with The Reading Agency to give libraries all over the country free copies of Dangerous Lady.

Libraries have been tweeting their glee at receiving the special anniversary editions

 

Martina has been an Ambassador for The Reading Agency since 2013 and is a passionate advocate for the cause. She says “I’m self-educated. I educated myself through books…. I’m so passionate about getting people to read.”

Every one of Martina’s books since Dangerous Lady has been a Sunday Times Bestseller. The ‘Queen of Crime’ has achieved 15 No 1’s in 16 years.

2017 is the 25th Anniversary of the publication of Dangerous Lady, Martina’s iconic debut novel.

Since its republication 5 weeks ago Dangerous Lady has stayed in the Top 50! This is a spectacular achievement for a book and a wonderful way to celebrate the 25th birthday of Dangerous Lady.

Martina Cole teamed up with The Reading Agency. Libraries all over the UK have been tweeting their appreciation for

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Chris Carter Tops the Sunday Times Hardback Bestseller List for the First Time

 

With his new novel The Caller (S & S) Chris Carter has beaten established authors like Joanna Trollope, Katie Fforde, Neal Gaiman and Sophie Kinsella to the No 1 spot on the ST List in its first week of publication.

The Caller is Chris Carter’s eighth serial killer novel featuring Robert Hunter.

Carter’s sales have been increasing book by book since his debut in 2009 with The Crucifix Killer which Darley sold at auction to S&S CEO Ian Chapman

Carter’s previous two novels I Am Death and An Evil Mind both went to No 5 on the ST Hardback Bestseller Lists.

This is also a personal triumph for Darley as Carter is the sixth of his own authors to achieve the No 1 spot on the Sunday Times List.

Some like Martina Cole and Lee Child have been long term No 1 Bestsellers for many years. Chris Carter now looks like joining their ranksthe-caller-final

 

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