Back in 2013 I published Rule Zero, the first Harry Bacon novel. I was able to call it ‘the first’ because from the very moment Harry and his world popped into my brainbox, the story was too big to fit into a single book. For some reason I can’t quite recall, I thought it would be a series of 13 novels.
Yes, 13. Ha.
Anyway, I spent what felt like forever drafting and re-drafting and faffing about with Rule Zero, and I finally published it in the spring of 2013. Once I’d put it out there and some people paid real money for it and read it all the way to the end and left nice reviews and subscribed to the mailing list, I kind of exhaled and sat down and had a little break from writing.
A few weeks later I drew all my notes together and started writing the second Harry Bacon novel.
Then I stopped again.
Then I started again.
Then I stopped again.
And so on.
I’ve got a theory as to why I struggled so much to write the second Harry Bacon novel, and it basically boiled down to giving too much of a flip what everyone else thought about it. What if all the people who liked Rule Zero bought the second book and didn’t like it? What if they wrote reviews and said things like “I liked the first one, but this one’s really pants”?
I don’t think I understood this at the time. I just carried on starting and stopping and flailing and bothering. Then it morphed into more not-writing than writing, and all the other things that make up My Life inflated into the space that not-writing left and filled it up like an old bean bag shoved into a half-full wardrobe.
Then after a while…hang on, let’s be honest, after about three and a half years of bean bag in the wardrobe, I figured out the whole Giving Too Much of a Flip thing and gave myself a bit of a talking to. Just write whatever the flipping flip you want to write, I said, although I didn’t do it out loud because I’m a bit too English for that kind of behaviour. Just write whatever the flipping flip you want to write. You can’t please everyone. Just please yourself.
So I started again on the second novel. I had a big pile of words kicking around that were all arranged into legible sentences. Some of these I chucked away. Some of them I set aside for other Harry Bacon books in the future. The left-overs I laid out into the bones of a story and I’ve been filling in all the fleshy bits ever since.
Continuing with the body analogy, because it’s kind of weird and fun, the second Harry Bacon novel right now is like a body with all the major organs hanging off the bones, most of the muscles connected up, a most of a brain sloshing about in the headbox and some nerve-wires joining it all up. It needs some of those tiny tiny nerves that take care of all the fine motor skills, a bunch of skin, a nice set of clothes and a dandy hat.
What does that mean for the eager reader? It means it’ll be done when it’s done and I am very much doing it and I very sincerely intend for that to be this year. 2017.
Afterwards, when it’s had a bottle of champers smashed over it and it’s been pushed down the slipway, I’ll have a little sit down and then I’ll begin work on the third Harry Bacon novel, and I promise not to give a flip what anyone thinks about that one either.
If you’ve read this far you deserve a bit more: the second Harry Bacon novel will be called The Spherical Void. It’s got most of the characters you met in Rule Zero plus several new ones. Here’s a brief unedited excerpt where you meet three of the new ones plus an old friend from Rule Zero who isn’t named but you might just recognise:
Jamal lay flat on the hut floor, peering through the tiniest crack in the door. He’d blown all the candles out and now that his eyes had adjusted it was easy to see what was going on outside. It was going to take him weeks to fix the henge. Months, even.
“Speak to me, Jamal. What do you see?” Mama Jess’s voice was thin and strained. He glanced back at her, but her expression was hidden in the darkness. He looked outside again.
“The woman is standing still, like she doesn’t have control of her legs. She’s looking all around like a blind person.”
It was a moment before Mama Jess replied. Then: “Good. The other. The big one?”
“He’s still swinging around like a wrecking ball. He’s ruining everything.”
“He’s released the flood. I can’t hold the energy back, not at the same time as I’m holding this woman down.” Mama Jess grunted, as if she was in pain. “She’s a lioness. Such strength.”
Jamal got to his feet. A plan had sprung into his head fully formed, as if it had just been hanging around waiting for a brain with a plan-shaped space inside it. “Hold her,” he said, not quite believing what he was about to do. “Hold her and don’t let go.”
He was out of the hut and running. A shopping trolley sailed past his head and he observed its passage as if it had slowed to a crawl. It tumbled noisily somewhere behind him; one crash, another and another, then it was gone. Over the edge, presumably. The man-monster hadn’t even noticed him, wasn’t even aiming at him. It was tearing an oil drum apart with its bare hands, hurling jagged shards of metal off in all directions.
Jamal spotted his quarry: a coil of bright blue nylon rope. He dived at it, grabbed it and rolled, then was up on his feet again and running with barely a pause. Should’ve been a gymnast or something. Two seconds later he was at the lioness’s feet, rope in hands, not quite believing what he was going to do. He looked up at her, and for an instant fell in some kind of love. She was incredible. Perfect. Strong, black and compact. A ball of barely controlled quivering fury, sweat streaming down her face, a low guttural roar churning somewhere deep inside her. She had a stink about her that caught in Jamal’s throat, an evil brew of body odour, pheromones and sheer hormonal power.
He couldn’t meet her eyes. He grabbed at her pockets, extracting two handguns and a sheathed machete. He hurled them into the night and hoped that she hadn’t seen where they went. Not that she’d need them if Mama Jess’s control over her wavered. She could probably end his life with her left thumb or some crazy ninja move like that. His hands shook as he uncoiled the rope. Double shank on her left ankle, weave in and out of her legs, double back, hitch. Jamal had lifted enough heavy stuff up onto this roof to know which knots worked and which didn’t. Double around her waist and then shank her wrists, avoiding the twitching, clutching fingers. Finally loop it around her belt.
She was light, lighter than he expected. Or perhaps the fear was lending him strength. He dragged her to the edge of the roof, tied the end of the rope to a small metal loop embedded in the concrete, and rolled her over the edge. He grabbed at the rope, trying to slow her fall, but the nylon burned like hell, drawing blood from his hands in seconds. He let go, and there was a moment of silence followed by the sound of breaking glass. He peered over the edge but it was too dark to see. “Sorry!” he shouted, almost by reflex. She must have slammed against a window. He hoped it hadn’t been head-first. He wasn’t actually trying to kill her or anything.