It’s a cliché for a reason: writing a second novel is not easy. I’d always heard this, of course, but I never fully believed it until I sat down to work on my first draft of The Summer of Us. I’d just turned in the final version of Seven Days of You, a book that took me eight years to get right, a book that had first sparked within me when I was only sixteen. Writing Seven Days of You felt like digging through a vast storage space of my memories and experiences, rifling through the boxes and working to transform their contents into Sophia and Jamie’s story. But now that was over. I was facing down a brand-new blank word document, and all I had was…nothing.
Or, at least, it felt like nothing. It felt like I’d given everything to my first book, and now I was scraping at the dregs of my imagination, heart and hands jittery with panic as—over and over again—I came up empty.
Looking back now, there wasn’t one particular moment when I snapped my fingers and made this feeling disappear. Instead, it faded slowly as, piece by piece, I built the world of The Summer of Us. I built one piece when I was sitting in the window of my favorite coffee shop, listening to Gregory Alan Isakov’s “Amsterdam” on repeat. I built another when I was carting my travel backpack through the streets of Prague in January, the city like a shuttered-up fairy-tale, curled into hibernation for the winter. Another piece came as I stretched along the grass of my parent’s hilltop garden in France, squinting at my laptop while church bells rang in the village below. Another during a rainy train ride through Spain. And yet another while I waited for a Eurostar from Paris back to London, the image of a particular scene cresting over me like a wave of summer humidity. The puzzle of The Summer of Us came together like strands of a spider web, almost invisibly, something I couldn’t quite believe was real until I stepped back and let it finally catch the light. And when it did, I realized I’d woven Aubrey and Rae’s journey from all the small, beautiful moments in my life that had accumulated since I first opened that blank document two years earlier. Moments that somehow shone through the fear and uncertainty of tackling a second book.
Holding the final copies of The Summer of Us now, I do still see that fear and uncertainty, yes, but I also see the gathered treasure I poured into it as a way of warding off the fear—I see the balmy Parisian nights and hidden treehouses and sugar-dusted kisses and blurred windowpanes of European countryside that fill its pages. These things are my proof that, even when I believed my imagination was empty, I was wrong. Because every book is different. And because—even though Seven Days of You was written and re-written from the clay of my own young adult years—other books can be built from the clay of life as you live it. Their new beginning can be your new beginning, too.