Swierczy's most recent blog post made me wonder something. What do you all (readers and writers) think of the various first novels you've read? Published writers, what do you think of your own first novels? Strengths and weaknesses?
I haven't seen the original in some time, but I know I will have to add about 10k words. That's a bit, but I've got the scenes in mind and they actually help flesh things out.
The first book I published had to be rewritten in large part because I had killed off a character that my editor told me to bring back to life. Had to kill someone so I wound up adding three new characters. One of them doesn't make it.
Once I defended my dissertation I dropped it like a hot rock. Haven't looked back. Didn't even get one of those bound copies.
The good news about a first novel is you may be starting a new series that will provide years of enjoyment. The bad news is it may take years for the second and subsequent ones to become available. I think the hest way to judge an author is by his/her second book. If it holds up or is better than the first, then you know there is something there. If one - three are good, I'm hooked and that author goes on my "watch for" list.
I have found that some first novels are brilliant, but the subsequent ones, while good, are somewhat disappointing. It might be the fact you took 10 years and 18 revisions with the first one and only 1 year and 3 revisions with the second; but occasionally, I think the premise works well in one novel, but the publisher then wants a series and you have to find a way, but it doesn't always work so well.
For five years I was one of the judges of the John Creasey Dagger for the Best First
Crime Novel awarded by the UK Crime Writers Association. I had to read every first
novel published and it gave me a taste for those fresh voices that make us sit up
and take notice. Among the best firsts I've read in the last ten years or so have
been, in no particular order:
Denise Mina's Garnethill
PJ Tracey's Monkeewrench
Jody Compton's The 37th Hour
Stuart MacBride's Cold Granite
Louise Welsh's The Cutting Room
Allan Guthrie's Two-Way Split
Charlie Huston's Caught Stealing
Mark Mills' Amagansett (aka The Whale House)
I'll remember another six as soon as I've finished this post...
What distinguished them all was the individuality of the voice. I felt like I was
hearing someone I'd never heard before. The other things they share are
strong story-telling and vivid sense of place. Not to mention characters that
catch my interest.
My own first novel? I wouldn't want to be judged by that. I think I've come a very
long way from there...
Yes yes yes to Louise Welsh, Stuart MacBride and Denise Mina - three first novels that you just knew announced something about those writers. (not to say that the others didn't as well but those 3 books in particular just stay in my mind).
Asa Larsson's Sun Storm was also a really interesting debut - some uncomfortable subject material, a vaguely unpleasant pair of central characters and yet it held you.
One of the finest firsts in my opinion, and he's published many since, was Jonathan King's Blue Edge of Midnight. I just recently discovered him and he's got, oh 4 or 5 out now, but I was amazed by his debut.
I've just finished reading an Australian first novel that nearly blew my socks off. Diamond Dove - by Adrian Hyland. Wonderful writing touching on quite a few issues regarding Australia's indigenous people and some interesting cultural insights into remote Aboriginal communities. Beautiful descriptions of the countryside and a very nice line in humour.
On the other side of the coin - I read a book the other year that won an award for best debut based on the first chapter I believe. The first chapter was a prologue set fifty years in the past . I'm afraid it was downhill from there. Cardboard cutout characters, Snidely Whiplash type baddies with one of the silliest and least believable motives I've come across. I won't name the book or the author but it's certainly one i won't forget in a hurry.