Second Album Syndrome: Somebody Knows by Michelle McDonagh

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Somebody Knows by Michelle McDonagh

By Michelle McDonagh

Michelle McDonagh, author of the bestselling There’s Something I Have To Tell You, on the writing of her second novel, Somebody Knows . . .

Writing a novel has been a lifelong dream of mine. The problem was that for far too many years, all I did was dream and talk about it, rather than ever actually sitting down at my desk to write.

I had no shortage of excuses. Too busy in my job as a journalist. Depression. Three kids four and under. Post-natal depression. Not enough hours in the day. Too tired. No ideas. The list goes on.

I tried to quench the dream, to lose myself in the words that other people had written. To indulge in my favourite pastime of reading. It was certainly far easier and more enjoyable than trying to write my own, but the deep compulsion to write just wouldn’t leave me alone. Sometimes cajoling and encouraging. More often nagging and guilt-inducing.

As a child, I always had my nose stuck in a book. Or a comic. The back of a cereal box. Anything I could get my hands on. My mother’s Mills and Boon (far too young as my romantic expectations of the kind of boys I would go on to meet as a teenager couldn’t have been further from reality). My father’s True Detective Magazines (far too young but they may have set the seeds in my crime-writing brain).

And I was always writing. I had notebooks full of stories (all sadly lost now) and my best Christmas ever was the year Santa delivered my little brown and yellow Lilliput typewriter. My fingertips tingle in memory of the pain of bashing out my stories on those stiff, clunky keys.

The writing came to an abrupt stop when I hit my teens and while I did start and abandon a number of books over the ensuing years, I kept writing myself into cul-de-sacs and could never get beyond about 30,000 words. I was always reading books on writing, but I was doing what author Neil Gaiman warns is the biggest pitfall to avoid. Not writing.

With my 50th birthday looming in the not-so-distant future, I joined the inaugural Writers Ink Facebook writers group set up by Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, founder of Writing.ie and journalist and mentor extraordinaire Mara McHale. This group got my creative juices, long dried up, flowing again but more importantly, Vanessa, Maria and the lovely Writers Ink members gave me something I had been sorely lacking. Confidence and a belief in my writing.

The belief that I could write spurred me on and I embarked on a Faber Write Your First Novel course at the start of 2020. Here I learnt how to plot and realised that’s where I had been going wrong all along. Unlike some writers who can just take off with a vague idea of where they are going, I need to have my route mapped out first. I don’t have to stick religiously to this route, but when I get lost, it helps me get back on track. My debut novel There’s Something I Have To Tell You was the first book I plotted properly, and the first book I ever finished.

That book got me an agent and a two-book deal with Hachette Ireland and amazingly made it to No 2 in the Irish Times Bestseller list last year. Fantastic. Thrilling. Exciting. But that was only the start of it, as I was quickly to learn. I had heard all about ‘second album syndrome’, the struggle to write the second book so I very smugly had the first draft of Somebody Knows finished before my debut was published.

I wasn’t quite so smug last summer when I presented it to my editor Ciara Considine, only for her to break it to me in her lovely, gentle way that while the writing was good, there was no suspense. A bit of an issue for a psychological suspense novel. And of course, as always, she was spot on. I had a mini-breakdown and told my husband I couldn’t fix it, whereupon he reminded me that I had said this with the first book as well after I got my structural edits (I’ve a feeling this is a pattern that is set to continue). I had a lot more work to do to get the book to the level it needed to be at, but this is the joy of working with a good editor. They force you to stretch yourself much further than you could if you were on your own.

Even though I was much happier with the final version of the book, I started to panic as my publication date drew closer. What if the first one was a fluke and nobody liked this one? Or what if they preferred the first one? This was despite the fact I had already signed a second two book deal with my publisher. The writer ego is a fragile thing and we’re constantly changing the goalposts on ourselves.

Happily, Somebody Knows is getting very positive reviews from readers, which are the most important reviews, and is currently No 4 in The Irish Times bestseller list. I’m thrilled and excited again and have now moved on to worrying about getting the third book into shape and will no doubt be a bag of nerves before that one comes out in 2025.

Based on my own experience, my advice to anybody wanting to get published is to follow Neil Gaiman’s advice and to make yourself sit down and write and keep writing, one word after another, until the book is finished. As he points out, ‘you can always go back and make it look like you knew what you were doing all along before the thing goes out and gets published’.

Don’t despair if you feel your writing isn’t as good as the books of your favourite authors. Always remember that those books have been through multiple redrafts and have had editorial input and often, input from agents and beta readers as well. You just need to get your writing to the best possible level you can get it to before you send it out for submission to an agent.

Join a writing group where you will get honest, constructive feedback. There’s no point in giving your work to family and friends to read, particularly if they’re not readers of your genre, as they’ll be afraid of hurting your feelings and won’t help you to improve. Read books on writing. Use online resources like Writing.ie

And most importantly, stop talking about it and just do it!

(c) Michelle McDonagh

About Somebody Knows by Michelle McDonagh:

Somebody Knows by Michelle McDonagh

As her adoptive mother lays dying, journalist Cara Joyce overhears a shocking piece of information about her origins. The information connects her to an unsolved death – that of Lucia Casey, a young woman whose body was found buried in a Connemara bog over thirty years ago.

To this day, the mystery of Lucia’s disappearance and death remains unsolved.

Cara’s quest to find out happened reunites her with the powerful Casey family. But as her obsession with the truth begins to take over her life, she finds herself increasingly at odds with those around her.

Who is behind Lucia’s death and what are they hiding? And what will Cara risk in the present to solve the mysteries of the past?

A gripping rural drama from the acclaimed author of Theres Something I Have to Tell You, Somebody Knows is a page-turning story of dangerous secrets and the lengths people will go to keep them.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Michelle McDonagh’s debut novel There’s Something I Have To Tell You became an Irish bestseller going to Number two in the Top Ten when it was published in April of 2023 by Hachette Ireland. Her second novel Somebody Knows (May 2024) is another Irish Times Top Ten bestseller.
She co-hosts the Natter with Kate and Michelle book podcast with her writer friend Kate Durrant.
A native of Galway, she has over 25 years experience as a journalist. She was a staff reporter with The Connacht Tribune in Galway before going freelance. She worked for all of the Irish national and tabloid papers covering news and courts, before switching solely to features and health, mainly for The Irish Times.
She now lives in Blarney where she is married with three children, and a very cute cavapoo.

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