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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 March 2006, 16:27 GMT
DBC Pierre takes second chance
DBC Pierre
Pierre received great praise for Vernon God Little
Author DBC Pierre has spoken about his efforts to avoid what has become known as "second novel syndrome" as he wrote the follow-up to his debut, the Booker Prize-winning Vernon God Little.

Ludmilla's Broken English, which was released earlier this month to mixed reviews, is set in England and a fictional state in the Caucuses, and centres on a pair of formerly conjoined twins who travel to meet a young woman they have seen on the internet.

Pierre told BBC World Service's The Word programme that while he acknowledged there were high expectations of the book, he had not felt too much pressure.

"Strangely, it wasn't as intense as you would think," he said.

"It's a curious thing. The first one was desperately hard to write, and this was certainly no easier - I made a decision consciously to come away from the comfort zone and do something that was unnatural.

"It was very natural for me to get under Vernon's skin and to write in the first person and to speak with his voice, and to use a sort of autobiographical parallel energy.

"But after its success, I didn't want to be seen to capitalise on what I knew worked in the book, and that I should try and progress. So I deliberately moved into the third person, which was uncomfortable and detached me.

"I deliberately wrote about something that wasn't motivated by any energy from my life, and that was tricky."

'Lucky book'

"Second novel syndrome" is the argument that many follow-ups to a successful debut novel are disappointing, possibly inevitably.

Some critics say that it comes about because, having poured all their effort into their first book, an author often has nothing left to put in the second one.

Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith (pictured) - The Autograph Man - The Times said: "If you're looking for imaginative involvement with people, happenings and ideas, you're likely to find The Autograph Man rather a
Joseph Heller - Something Happened, the follow-up to Catch-22, felt by critics to be a major disappointment
Ralph Ellison - Juneteenth - died before it could be published, 40 years after his debut The Invisible Man
JD Salinger - went into seclusion after success of The Catcher In The Rye ; only published short stories since
Amy Tan - tried seven times to write a follow up The Joy Luck Club, destroyed all the drafts
Harper Lee - never followed up To Kill A Mockingbird
The pressure is intensified if the debut has been particularly well-received - and indeed, Ludmilla's Broken English was given a lukewarm reception on its release earlier this month.

The Times described it as being "to fiction what Jeremy Clarkson is to the English essay", while The Independent said that "for fans of Pierre's first novel, the result cannot be anything but dismaying".

But Pierre said that Vernon God Little - a satire on American violence and consumerism - had been "such a lucky book" that much of its success "had nothing to do" with him.

"The history of the world shifted around the book - it was finished long before the tragedy of September 11, and there was a pivotal shift in the world on that day, that took the book up with it, in a way - everyone's perception of America changed," he said.

"Suddenly, it seemed a much braver statement, which wasn't my doing.

"Then for it to go on and win prizes, you have to factor a lot of luck into that. So in a way, it went so far over the top that it was purely academic - I couldn't possibly imagine what do to get back up there, so I just had to put my best foot forward.

"Vernon was a different animal, so I just have to ignore it and move on."

Broken down society

Pierre, whose was born Peter Finlay, drafted Ludmilla's Broken English based on internet research, and then went to the southern Caucuses with the charity Medicines Sans Frontier to follow it up.

Azeri refugees
Pierre met refugees who fled to Azerbaijan from Armenia
He said that doing this - "as close as I could get to a fractured border without getting shot or kidnapped" - made him realise his initial draft was "too rosy."

"They've been in a technical ceasefire for 15 years, but nothing has happened since the day of that ceasefire - all the things that keep a society going have completely broken down," he said.

"They are living without windows, without heating, without food.

"In the towns I visited, no less that half the population is mentally retarded - due to incest, due to cultural beliefs that the best thing to do with a retarded child is marry them to another retarded child and cast them loose. It was just devastating."

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