Finishing each other’s sentences: the joys of joint authorship
Everyone bangs on about the horrors of being alone long enough to write a novel. All the solitude, dedication, 5am starts, struggling with writer’s block etc. So perhaps the way forward is writing with someone else – sharing the burden? But we didn’t plan to write a book together, it snuck up on us.
Myself and Barbara Roddam have been friends for 40 years. Shared the joys and heartbreaks of life, love, families and children. But we’ve never worked together. So this venture, writing a novel together, was potentially a serious risk. Bad things could have happened both to the book and to our friendship.
It began with an idea. A TV programme about Stonehenge fascinated us. We were struck by the notion that back in the ancient world men and women – represented by the sun and moon – had been given equal status. When did we lose this balance, we wondered, and become such a male-dominated world? All the news centred on climate change, war, religious intolerance, famine. Why was the world in such chaos?
And then we came across the Mayan calendar. When this ends on the winter Solstice 2012, many believe it also means the end of the world. Could we make these two strands into a gripping yarn?
Apart from her career as writer and director of children’s programmes at the BBC, Barbara’s studied psychological astrology. She’s fascinated by the ancient world and the most rigorous researcher since the dawn of time. So she did all the research. Lucky me, because even though I’m a writer I hate it. Then we brainstormed the characters and plot, meeting every couple of weeks. We knew our characters and their back-stories, knew the beginning and the end. But how to get from A to B? In the end we just had to write the damn thing.
We blocked out the storyline for the first 10 chapters and took the parts of the story we wanted to tell. In the beginning, Barbara went for the spooky bits and I did the relationships emerging between the leading characters. Then we swapped and edited each other’s work.
But I’m still amazed, reading the finished book at how the writing styles melded so well. I could tell before we tidied the document who’d written what: Barbara used double quote marks for speech, mine were single. Now it’s hard to know which is which. I suppose you have to be on the same wavelength in the first place. And it’s a magic process, the way ideas flew between us and created an emerging third voice – that of the story wanting to be told.
So all was going well, when Barbara had a bad accident. She was out of action for almost a year. I thought the book was over – 2012 was approaching – but without the synergy between us, I just couldn’t progress it. Was this the end of Solstice? But the enforced time out proved useful. New information surfaced that filled some plot-holes and in a renewed burst of energy we finished the book and now we just need to crowd-fund its production.
We’re two very different people despite having birthdays two days apart. But we obviously have a deep connection that allows us to think as one creatively. And we’re still the best of friends! Quite an achievement I think.Tagged in: apocalypse, Barbara Roddam, end of the world, Hilary Boyd, mayan calendar, winter Solstice 2012
Recent Posts on Arts
- Jordan Peak: The Rogue element
- Friday Book Design Blog: 3:AM Press
- Children’s Book Blog: Discovering stories in East London
- Friday Book Design Blog: Leaving The Sea, by Ben Marcus
- Children’s Book Blog – books for April: The Day the Crayons Quit, The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig and Grasshopper Jungle
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter