The Second Stranger by Martin Griffin

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Second Stranger

By Martin Griffin

Fourth Time Lucky: the importance of patience, persistence and hope in writing

That old Hemingway quote – you know the one from A Moveable Feast, “the only writing is rewriting” – is regularly referenced for a reason, and just recently, I was struck anew by the truth of the great man’s words.

I was listening to an interview with celebrated horror author Grady Hendrix, who was discussing the origins of his 2021 novel The Final Girl Support Group on the Talking Scared podcast. “I think the first finished draft is dated January 2014,” Hendrix says, before going on to explain that he submitted it to his editor back then, only to find he wasn’t interested. Let’s pause a moment and imagine that moment of rejection. Many of us might quit, complaining bitterly about the cruelty of a universe that can dismiss years of work in a single email. Hendrix however, didn’t. “I rewrote it, and re-wrote it,” he says, blithely dismissing what must have been months of further graft, “and he still wasn’t that interested.” Surely time to consign the project to the great pedal-bin of history, you might think. But no. Years pass, 2019 rolls around and Hendrix is asked if he has a completed project sitting in a desk drawer that might be suitable for sale. He mentions The Final Girl Support Group. “So,” Hendrix says, “I re-wrote it again.” Before adding, for good measure, “Then rewrote it again – and sold it in December of 2019.” I’ll do the counting for you: that’s four major re-writes following the book’s initial submission; work that Hendrix recounts with the kind of breezy brevity that almost defies belief.

My debut crime novel, The Second Stranger is out this month. It tells the story of Remie Yorke, who’s working her last ever nightshift in a Highland hotel. She’s handed in her notice and, weather permitting, is flying to Santiago at sun-up. But things begin to unravel when a police officer arrives at the hotel with a disturbing story. His vehicle has crashed in the snow and the high-security prisoner he was transporting has escaped. Can he come in, secure the site and request back-up? Remie invites him out of the cold, but then a second man arrives. He too claims to be a police officer. He too has lost a prisoner and wants to come indoors. One of Remie’s visitors is lying and if she is to survive the night, she’ll need to work out which man is the cop, and which the murderer.

On the face of it, there are very few similarities between Grady Hendrix’s novel and mine. Except for this, perhaps – the version of The Second Stranger that makes its way into bookshops this month is also the fourth fully-complete iteration of the story. Each was structurally different, often featuring different characters and entirely different events. I have close to 100,000 words of material that isn’t in the book you’ll see on the shelves. The first draft had a teenage protagonist. The second featured a piano-playing main character on the run from a gangland crime boss (I realise now how ridiculous that sounds…) the third, surely the least successful of all my attempts, tried introducing multiple points of view. I remember beginning to think I might never get it right. Rather than re-use any of the previous prose, I decided to write the fourth iteration entirely from scratch. It was only then that it seemed to click. Of course, I needed to do multiple rewrites after that, but they weren’t anywhere near as significant; I’d finally found the right way of telling the story.

Earlier in my writing career I used to think I was alone in struggles like these. Now I’ve come to realise that multiple try-fail cycles of hopeful experimentation are how many writers arrive at the versions of stories we read, and that this applies even to the most successful. I treasure my copy of Stephen King’s The Green Mile – the 2008 Gollancz edition – partly because of the peerless magic of the novel itself, and partly because of the frank honesty of King’s introduction. “It was a tremendously hard story to write,” he admits, before sharing something of the book’s difficult birth. “It was a good idea,” he says of his early plans, “but the story wouldn’t work for me. I tried it in a hundred different ways, it seemed, and it still wouldn’t work for me.”

A hundred different ways. Worth bearing in mind next time we’re wrestling with projects that refuse to cooperate. It’s about patient, persistent re-thinking and re-writing – sometimes dogged, determined certainly, and always optimistic; a process we can all return to and rely on. We should console ourselves with the fact that our struggles don’t mark us out as unusual, rather as normal.

Hopefully that can be of some comfort next time we’re consigning the third draft of our troublesome creation to the pedal-bin of history.

(c) Martin Griffin

The Second Stranger by Martin Griffin is published by Sphere, hardback/eBook and audio

About The Second Stranger:

Second Stranger

One detective. One murderer. But which is which?

Remie Yorke has one shift left at the Mackinnon Hotel in the remote Scottish Highlands before she leaves for good. Then Storm Ezra hits.

As temperatures plummet and phone lines go down, an injured man stumbles inside. PC Don Gaines was in a terrible accident on the mountain road. The only other survivor: the prisoner his team was transporting.

When a second stranger arrives, Remie reluctantly lets him in from the blizzard. He, too, is hurt. He claims to be a police officer. His name is also Don Gaines.

Someone is lying and, with no means of escape, Remie must work out who. If the cold doesn’t kill her, one of these men will get there first . . .

This evocative, icy locked-room thriller is perfect for fans of THE SANITORIUM by Sarah Pearse, ONE BY ONE by Ruth Ware and THE GUEST LIST by Lucy Foley.

Order your copy of The Second Stranger online here.

About the author

MARTIN GRIFFIN is an exciting new voice in the crime genre. Before turning his hand to writing, he was a deputy headteacher and a doomed singer who was once asked to support The Fall on tour, a gig he had to decline having only composed two good songs. Martin lives in Manchester with his wife and daughter.

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