Please welcome another author with a tale to tell.
Under my spare bed are several boxes full of bits of my writing, complete or otherwise, going back rather more years than I care to tell you.
One item is a puppet play I wrote with a friend for my little sister’s ninth birthday. This was probably my first writing collaboration.
All my published work after that point was my own enterprise: collections of short stories, a sort of fictionalised memoir about my father. I never anticipated doing another collaboration and then a couple of years ago, I agreed to two.
The first is with Val Portelli whom I ‘met’ in a Facebook group at the point when I was just getting back into writing after a very long dry spell. We became friends, having a similar silly sense of humour and fascination with mythology (o.k. mainly dragons). Eventually, we met in person and decided to pull together a collection of short stories. We selected ones we thought would complement each other, so this part of the process wasn’t very difficult. We had to decide how to group and order things, whether to have themes or sections and then ultimately, tidy up and edit what we ended up with. But crucially, Val’s stories are totally Val’s and mine are totally mine. The somewhat harder part was deciding on a title and a cover. We probably ‘argued’ in a genteel sort of way about these two things for weeks. ‘Weird and Peculiar Tales’ is the end result. If you like short fiction with a fantasy bent, mostly humorous but with a few spooky ones thrown in, this could be for you.
The second collaboration was quite different. Liz Hedgecock and I also ‘met’ via Facebook. Liz is a successful author of a number of mysteries. We beta read for each other, became friends and one day she asked if I’d ever thought of collaborating on a novel. The truthful answer was ‘no’. I couldn’t imagine how two people could each have a ‘voice’ in one story. But I was curious as to what she had in mind and we bounced a few ideas about before eventually, one foggy lunchtime at work I sketched out a few thoughts and messaged a mocked up panic-stricken anonymous letter to Liz. ‘Oh hello!’ Liz messaged back. At this point, living even further apart than me and Val, we hadn’t met, but we had to talk things through over the phone. The easiest part was picking an era and genre. London in 1890 as our starting point and a mystery to be solved by two young women. Liz asked if we could write one with a view to a series if the process seemed to work. It sounded terrifying but then I thought ‘why not?’
I think it’s fair to say that Liz and I are both a teeny-weeny bit control-freaky. Neither of us, frankly, wanted one of us to supply ideas for the other to write. We wanted an equal and joint enterprise. Starting there, we decided the best way forward was to take a main character each and write alternate chapters from her point of view. We agreed the structure of the novel, e.g. at what point in the word-count, the plot beats would go and so on. With two contrasting characters, one determined not to let difficulties ruin her life and the other lacking in confidence but desperate to escape her mother’s restrictions, we just started writing.
As I’d come up with the anonymous letter, I wrote chapter one then effectively handed the baton on to Liz who then wrote chapter two and so on. We found we couldn’t stop. On a couple of days, we managed three chapters between us. The first book ‘The Case of the Black Tulips’ was such fun to write, we pretty much started book two straight away. There are now four books published in the Caster & Fleet series, with a fifth and sixth due out sometime in 2019.
The upside was definitely the amount of fun we have when we’re writing and we’ve become good friends. The downside? Sometimes we don’t quite know where the other is heading. Occasionally one of us drops a bombshell on the other. For example one of us lost something in chapter X that the other person planned to use in chapter Y. Editing can be hard. Sometimes we wrangle which can be more or less painful, depending. As the characters become more real and their lives more complex, plots necessarily become more involved. But despite all this, the ups are greater than the downs. We are still having great fun, we still chat about Katherine and Connie as if they are real and we’ve met in person several times to undertake research. When I say research, I mean walking miles round London, occasionally being cultural but often stopping for refreshments.
Would I recommend the process? Well it’s worked for us. We have an independent voice in each of the books without damaging the stories’ flow at all and as light-hearted mysteries, they’ve been well-received.
Somehow, while all this was going on, I wrote a Roman-British murder-mystery novel and a 10k story set in an alternative universe with dragons. There was a point when trying to remember which era (or indeed universe) I inhabited was quite hard.
And yet one day, when Liz said ‘what about another collaboration, only this time in a contemporary setting?’ I said ‘oh go on then’.
I must be mad.
Paula Harmon was born in North London to parents of English, Scottish and Irish descent. Perhaps feeling the need to add a Welsh connection, her father relocated the family every two years from country town to country town moving slowly westwards until they settled in South Wales when Paula was eight. She later graduated from Chichester University before making her home in Gloucestershire and then Dorset where she has lived since 2005.
She is a civil servant, married with two teenage children. Paula has several writing projects underway and wonders where the housework fairies are, because the house is a mess and she can’t think why.
Portfolio (with links)
It’s AD 190 in Southern Britain. Lucretia won’t let her get-rich-quick scheme be undermined by minor things like her husband’s death. But a gruesome discovery leads wise-woman Tryssa to start asking awkward questions.
Can everything be fixed with duct tape? Dad thinks so. The story of one man’s battle against common sense and the family caught up in the chaos around him.
Secrets and mysteries, strangers and friends. Stories as varied and changing as British skies.
Christmas without the hype – stories for midwinter.
Dorissa and Menilly, estranged sisters descended from the dragon-people, are desperate to find their runaway brother before he falls victim to the urban underworld.
Caster & Fleet Mysteries (with Liz Hedgecock)
When Katherine Demeray opens a letter addressed to her missing father, little does she imagine that she will find herself in partnership with socialite Connie Swift, racing against time to solve mysteries and right wrongs.
Weird and Peculiar Tales (with Val Portelli)
Short stories from this world and beyond
My thanks to this weeks guest for a great post. I hope you all enjoyed it.
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