When I started my writing career, nearly thirty years ago, I never considered the possibility of sequels. I rattled off novels, each one totally unconnected with the others, and when I finished working on a book any nostalgia I felt for its characters soon passed. Sometimes I was rather glad to see the back of them.
For years I suffered from a mild case of sequelphobia – not to be confused with sequinphobia. I was inoculated against that by my gran before I could walk. I’d happily wear sequins at breakfast and now I’m in my seventies I may very well do so. No, sequelphobia is a morbid fear of being judged as a written-out barrel-scraper with no new ideas.
Sequels can sink without trace, no matter how successful their predecessor. Catch-22 was an enormous success. The title has entered the English language. But hands up, who’s read Closing Time? Me neither. Little Men was nothing like as popular as Little Women, and did you know there were sequels to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? I didn’t, and I consider myself a Mark Twain fan. And then there were the sequels to Gone With the Wind. Some unauthorized, and all, including the authorized version, Scarlett, regrettable.
When my publishers first suggested a sequel to one of my earlier novels, I hesitated. But then I thought, hang on, I have some perfectly good characters lying idle. So I wrote The Early Birds, a sequel to The Future Homemakers of America, and many of my loyal readers said ‘Yey!’
A year ago, after offering my publishers a number of fabulous, original and compelling ideas and watching them yawn, I caved in again and said, ‘Okay, what about a sequel to Perfect Meringues?’ ‘Ooh yes please,’ they said. ‘How soon can you deliver?’
I had ended Perfect Meringues when its heroine, Lizzie Partridge was in her late forties so she was a credible candidate for a continuing story. I just wasn’t sure I liked her any more and there was only one way to find out. Read the damned book.
I would (almost) rather have root canal than read my own backlist but it had to be done. I sat at my kitchen table, pencil and notepad to hand, and made myself read. The notes I made were mainly along the lines of, WHAAAT? FEEBLE! MAKE IT GO AWAY… but by the end of the day I did have one comforting fact to cling to: I am a better writer now than I was twenty years ago.
So how does one go about writing a sequel? The first thing you have to accept is that you can’t change Book 1. Now we’re all electronic even pulping won’t remove books from circulation. They’re out there for all eternity. Tom, Dick and Harry will be expected to reappear in your sequel – unless you plan on a brief mention that Dick fell under the wheels of a bus – and so will all their little foibles. Yes, people change over time but generally, once a loudmouth or a nitpicker always a loudmouth or a nitpicker. Just with an expanding waistline and a shorter fuse.
How much time will have elapsed between your stories? In the 19th century you could write a sequel without the scenery changing too much: decades might pass but men would still doff their hats and hansom cab horses would still go clippety-clop. Nowadays even five years can be transformative. In Perfect Meringues, set in the mid 1990s, no-one used mobile phones but for its sequel, set in 2010, even an antediluvian like Lizzie Partridge needed to be connected.
A sequel requires a few cast changes – one or two departures as per Dick Under the Bus, and one or two new faces. Characters who originally featured as children can make for interesting developments. Has that pink-clad spawn of the devil improved over time? What has become of that catatonic teenager? Hiring and firing is one of the most enjoyable duties of a novelist and in Anyone for Seconds? it gave me great pleasure to retain the services of Lizzie’s mother Muriel. An unwoke character bearing down on her 90th birthday like Boadicea on a mobility scooter can be a very useful authorial mouthpiece in these sensitive times.
One way or another we write about ourselves. When I was tied to my chair and forced to reread Perfect Meringues I certainly recognized a distant version of myself: a menopausal single parent with a career heading for the buffers. The thinly disguised scenes from the cutting room floor of midlife dating. Even the things I used to cook. Did I really own a piping bag? Gosh. And not a wok in sight.
Writing a sequel, I have decided, can be good for one’s craft. There, in the yellowing pages of Book 1, are passages that should never have made it beyond first draft, dumb plot decisions, lazy similes and clichés that land with a clunk. ‘Can do better!’ they scream. And now you have the chance.
I have had just one major reservation about my Lizzie Partridge sequel: its title. ‘Anyone for Seconds?’, I can imagine some waggish reviewer saying. ‘No thank you, dear. We’ve had quite enough of that.’
(c) Laurie Graham
Author photograph (c) Leslie Powell
Laurie Graham is a former Daily Telegraph columnist and contributing editor of She magazine. The author of several acclaimed novels, most recently The Grand Duchess of Nowhere and The Night in Question (2015), Laurie lives in Dublin. Visit her website at www.lauriegraham.com
About Anyone for Seconds?
The laugh-out-loud sequel to Perfect Meringues – can former queen of the TV cooks Lizzie Partridge claw her way back into the nation’s hearts?
Life has been going downhill for ex-TV chef Lizzie Partridge ever since she spectacularly ended her television career by throwing a chocolate mousse at the host of Midlands This Morning. Her partner Tom has left her, Nigella and Jamie have got the cookery world sewn up, and now her restaurant reviewing column – her last bit of work – has been axed. Surely the only way is up from here?
In a desperate bid for sympathy and attention she runs away, from the gas bill and the mouse under the sink, and in wet and wintry Aberystwyth she experiences a brush with her past and a glimmer of new prospects. And when her nephew – now a TV producer – has the bright idea to reunite her with her former nemesis and target of the mousse attack in a new show, it seems like things could be going Lizzie’s way again after all!
Anyone for Seconds? by Laurie Graham is published by Quercus in Hardback on 23rd August, £18.99.
Order your copy online here.