The problem with a second novel is that it takes almost no time to write compared with a first novel. If I write my first novel in a month at the age of 23, and my second novel takes me two years, which have I written more quickly? The second of course. The first took 23 years, and contains all the experience, pain, stored-up artistry, anger, love, hope, comic invention and despair of that lifetime. The second is an act of professional writing. That is why it is so much more difficult.
In my case the numbers are: 7 years at the age of 56 (and the years before 56, of course) and coming up for 5. But I’ve learned so much about how to write a novel this second time, much more than ever I did while writing the first one, for Fry’s reasons. I’ve discovered so much about what to do and what not to do and I’m still discovering and now I know I’ll continue discovering for as long as I write. But I think – and hope – I’m on the home straight with my second novel now (although I’ve said that before and been wrong …). By the beginning of next year I’ll know.
I realised that what I’d always believed about literature, that it can help people understand and make decisions about their lives, to be undeniably true: that it can get people excited about thinking, and build kindness and community. Literature is not an aesthetic experience but practical help for being human.
Get into Reading groups read with people in mental health institutions, in nursing and residential homes, in libraries, with children and with adults, with the socially excluded, with people who hardly read at all and with those who read often. In a study into interventions for common mental health problems carried out by the University of Liverpool (where Get into Reading began) one of the conclusions was:
The evidence suggested a reduction in depressive symptoms for Get into Reading group participants.
Now isn’t that just wonderful? You can read yourself well. Practical help for being human.