I always heard people talk about how difficult writing the Second Book was. The first book is almost always written without any thought of publication. Dreams, maybe, but no realistic expectation that anyone is ever going to read it. That's how it was for me, anyway. The stories in The White Road and Other Stories were written over about 2 years. All the science-inspired ones, the longer ones, were written while I was doing an MA in Creative Writing, and I'd never had anything published. My only thoughts then were, Please let me have enough words to pass the MA! I just wanted to get enough stories written to make the word count. I wasn't thinking about how they might work together, it was hard enough to write one story, let alone consider questions of collections and structure.
Now, things are very very different. Now my name is on the spine of an actual book, a book that's been read by people I'm not related to, a book that's received reviews. What a wonderful thing! But it certainly makes the writing of Book 2 a different experience. I feel watched. I have thoughts in my head of what a reviewer might say... and this is before I've really even started writing it!
Also, it's going to be another collection of short fiction, but this time with a very strong theme or concept - inspired by biology, inspired by being in the University labs, and also as a fictional response to a classic 1917 biology book. I've never been in this situation before, having committed to writing an entire book that fits this concept, being funded to do this by the Arts Council. How do I conceive of this project in my mind? Yes, I wrote the Arts Council application and said I'd do all sorts of things that sounded so impressive - but how do I actually now carry that out?
One thing I am mulling over is whether I write all the stories and keep them to myself until the whole collection is ready, or do I send individual stories out along the way to see if any get published? This immediately throws up another question: should the stories stand alone? Now when you talk about short stories, or when I'd always talked about them, I'd always asserted that yes, any short story in a collection should stand alone. Should? Is there a should? I'd love some opinions here.
This isn't quite the same as something like a novel-in-stories, I don't imagine the same characters cropping up. But the stories will seem different when read in the context of the concept, the fictional response to the 1917 book. Yes, I could include a quote from the book at the beginning of a particular story when I submit it to a lit mag... but increasingly I am wondering about the effectiveness of quotes at the beginnings of stories. Yes, I did it a lot in TWR, but I imagine a lot of people skipped the quote and just read the story.
Ok, I can already hear many of you shouting at me, "Don't worry about all that now! Just write and see what happens!" Yes, you're quite right. I should do that. This is me being neurotic, right? But it also feels like I should spend a little time contemplating before I embark on this, to set sail in the right direction. Or at least to set sail in a direction even if I then change course. Advice appreciated - has anyone else approached a second short story collection in a completely different way from the first? Or any second book? Also, as readers would you want each story to stand alone?