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Working with others

I’m not one to make things easy for myself, but despite geographical distances (Scotland to Belarus and USA), both my collaborative projects have been rewarding and, I believe, successful. I am proud of the finished projects and have learned a lot about myself in the process.

Collaborative project #1

The Starblood graphic novels

When my debut novel Starblood came out it was almost universally described as very visual and even filmic. I had powerful imagery in mind as I wrote this story, both in terms of characters and settings, and it’s gratifying to know that these translated well onto the page.

I have already described the process of sourcing an artist and translating the novel into a script, so I won’t repeat that here, but if you’re interested, you can find the article on my blog.

I learned a great deal while working with Anna – from relaxing my hold on my original vision and my ownership of the characters, to the importance of patience. In the novels, Star has tight curls which she styles into ringlets. However, in the graphic novels, Star has straight hair and, in many ways, resembles my younger self. Anna either perceived that the story was a psychological autobiography, or the resemblance was accidental, but it forced me to acknowledge that I, like many other writers, had produced a debut novel based on my own emotional journey.

I have never been a patient person, just ask my mum. If I am not given deadlines, I create them and missing even the most arbitrary and artificial deadline causes me anxiety. Collaborating with Anna meant constantly revising release dates, and now that my beautiful friend lives in a war zone, I have no idea if and when the Black Sun graphic novel will be finished. A decade ago, this would have been the source of crippling anxiety, but now, I just hope she is okay and survives this nightmare (one far worse than any I have written). Over the seven years we have known each other, she has become far more than a talented artist to me. She is my friend and a window into a part of the world I knew little about. The fact that we are so similar to each other reinforces my belief that people around the world, including officially sanctioned enemies, are the same as us. This is the final nail in the coffin of any patriotism I have ever felt and has made me realise that borders and war are futile and obscene. Geography is no excuse for dehumanising people.

Collaborative project #2

Our Fearful Roots

Faith and I were already friends before we started this project, although we still haven’t met in the flesh. We decided to write together after a larger group project was abandoned. Choosing the concept was easy, the haunted house idea appealed to both of us, but we were unsure about how we might approach co-writing as a process without stepping on each other’s toes. I think it was me who initially suggested we have multiple protagonists and divide them between us, but as happens with collaborative projects, the idea quickly became ours rather than mine. We imagined a family with two male and two female characters. Faith took the father and daughter and I, very happily, wrote the mother and son. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the house itself feels like the primary character in the finished novel as it is the entity which connects them all and acts as both hero and villain. Everything beyond the family and the haunted house was revealed to us through the process of writing. We had no plan, and the story grew organically or magically, like the sinister climbing roses in our story.

The novel was written entirely via email. I would write a scene or two from the mother’s or son’s perspective and send it to Faith who picked up where I left off. Editing the finished draft was very challenging. I had to fix time jumps and repeated scenes, choosing the most powerful and important POV (character’s point of view) for each event and weaving in any vital plot points which would have been lost in the cutting of the other version(s). I smoothed the narrative and adjusted aspects of language use so that it would feel as though a single author had written the story, not me or Faith but a consolidation of both of us – Familla Marloiz, if you like, but I needed to be careful to do this without sacrificing the individuality of the four protagonists. As is often the case with my novels, it took longer to edit Our Fearful Roots that it took to write the first draft, but the favourable reviews and being shortlisted for an award (we won’t know for a few months whether we win) assures me that the finished book succeeded in its purpose.

In conclusion, if you get the opportunity to work with others, grab it. You may learn a lot of things about yourself, the craft, and the world in the process.

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