‘Difficult Second Album’ Syndrome: Your Guilty Secret by Rebecca Thornton
My second novel, Your Guilty Secret – about Lara King, an A list celebrity whose life unravels in the glare of the public eye – is out this week. I was so excited to have got a two-book deal from Bonnier Zaffre, yet when my first book – The Exclusives (a novel set in an all-girls boarding school) – was done and dusted, I realised I had absolutely no idea what I’d write next. I felt like I’d given everything over to my debut and had nothing left.
I spent months and months at my desk, writing words on a page – meandering – knowing nothing about my main characters, or even the story itself.
“Write yourself into it,” was the advice I got from lots of people. It was true – I was flexing my writing muscle – but at the same time, the panic of not having anything worth-while down on the page was growing.
I wrote one draft of my second novel – which was diabolical. I had a vague plan for the story, but because I didn’t know my characters, I had no idea how they were going to get from A to B. It was a pretty miserable working time. But when I stopped (after having written about half a million words) and thought about what was going on, I realised that I’d just been making the same mistakes I’d made before I wrote The Exclusives. I was over-compensating lack of confidence and character with a ludicrously complicated plot. The definition of madness sprang to mind – doing the same thing again and again but expecting a different result.
Before I got a publishing deal for The Exclusives, I signed myself up for the six month Writing A Novel course at the Faber Academy. My tutors were Esther Freud and Tim Lott and about eleven of us would gather together every Monday evening to learn about writing. We’d read through each other’s work and give honest feedback on what we thought wasn’t working. It was a sacred two-hours for me – one where I could shut myself off from the world and focus on what I truly wanted to be doing.
So with all those discarded drafts, I went back through everything I’d learned from that six months at Faber. I thought about the things that propelled me to write my first novel. The lessons that had struck me and stuck with me and enabled me to finish a publishable manuscript. Of course, we learnt about the mechanics of a plot, and the technicalities of story-telling, but it was something else that gave me my voice.
The first overarching lesson was: be honest with yourself (thank you to the ever-wise Tim Lott) and the second was: Just tell the story. It was looking into the whys and hows of both that allowed me to find the story for The Exclusives. The difficult task was finding one again in time for my second looming deadline.
I thought about what else I was missing. I realised quickly that it was the peer support I had had during my time at Faber Academy. The friends that would spend hours reading through my work, writing notes about what could be improved and what needed to be scrapped.
So I did what I should have done long before – I asked for help. This came in the form of my best mate and fellow writer, Asia Mackay whose novel Killing It was published by Bonnier last year. She also completed the Faber Academy Writing A Novel course and so knew the motions and understood what I was going through. She must have read about three novels worth of writing from me (thank you so much Asia and sorry!) and was always truthful about what was working and what wasn’t, which was absolutely key.
I stuck to a routine – which was to write a thousand words a day. This helped me timetable the manuscript – which I have to do because I don’t plot before I start. It gives me some form of control over my work. I also thought more about my character Lara King, the world-famous celebrity. Once I had her motives in mind, the whole thing became slightly easier to write. I then spent months editing a very messy manuscript. But that was ok – the skeleton of the story was there.
After a few more months of doing this, I had a first draft of Your Guilty Secret. It took a lot of editing to overcome the lack of confidence that book had brought up, but finally, I’m sitting here with a finished copy in my hands. I thought I’d be put off forever after having the ‘difficult second album’ syndrome. I won’t be giving up that easily though, except, this time around, I’m hoping not to be making the same mistakes again.
(c) Rebecca Thornton
Rebecca Thornton is an alumna of the Faber Academy Writing A Novel course, where she was tutored by Esther Freud and Tim Lott. Her writing has been published in Prospect Magazine, The Guardian, You Magazine, Daily Mail and The Sunday People, The Jewish News, amongst others. She has reported from the Middle East, Kosovo and the UK. She now lives in West London with her husband and two sons.
About Your Guilty Secret:
An intense thriller that explores the dark side of fame and family. Perfect for fans of Laura Marshall, Lisa Jewell and Louise Jensen.
You know Lara King.
The top billing of the showbiz pages, you’ve seen her every morning; over your breakfast, on your commute to work. You know everything about her; you’ve dissected her life.
Her perfect relationship with film-star Matthew Raine. Her beautiful six-year old daughter Ava.
And so when a terrible incident shatters the family’s carefully constructed facade, a media frenzy ensues.
What happens when the perfect woman begins to unravel? When her whole life is really just a lie? One she will do anything she can to stop you from finding out?
This story is . . . YOUR GUILTY SECRET.
Order your copy online here.