Perdita and Honor Cargill are no strangers to collaboration, so with their middle grade novel – Diary of An Accidental Witch with illustrations by Katie Saunders – hitting the shelves, we were super keen to chat to them about writing collaboratively.
Diary of An Accidental Witch is such an imaginative and humorous story. Bea Black has just moved with her dad to Little Spellshire. In an attempt to help her ‘celebrate’ the move Dad gives her a diary… this book is her diary! Orange bubble cars, purple sparks and a uniform that includes a cape?! Let’s just say this isn’t your average town… or school. Ooops. Dad should have paid more attention before signing her up! Or maybe not, because what unravels is fabulous story full of warmth, magic and giggles.
So. That collaboration? The end result is clearly a success. But what about the process? How DOES it work? We chatted to Perdita and Honor…
To be honest if you’d asked either of us when Honor was sixteen whether we would still be collaborating on writing projects some seven years later, we’d probably have laughed in disbelief. But we are – and it’s still fun. Puzzling out what’s working for us – and whether any of it might be useful to other authors writing together (try it!) – is tricky but here is our best attempt at a top tips list:
There are as many different ways to collaborate as there are collaborators.
Some books are written in multiple voices, some in a single voice. Some collaborators work literally side by side. Others work apart. We write in one voice but although we get together and talk about the plot and the characters until they come alive, we work in separate places (to avoid matricide and/or filicide), then swap drafts and edit and edit until it works. What matters is to find a way that suits you.
How you collaborate – and whether you collaborate – is a project-by-project decision. For example, Perdita has nothing to do with Honor’s non-fiction projects – not least because she doesn’t know anything about scandalous Ancient Romans.
That sounds so bland but although we are sometimes editorially quite savage with each other (P: Honor has been known to send me back a draft with the single note: “This is not funny, will re-write”) a) we’re family and b) we both know when the other is feeling vulnerable and needs a gentler approach.
Listen to your collaborators.
A collaboration is not going to be any fun or work as well as it should if one person bosses everything.
If you have a relationship before you collaborate, don’t let the collaboration damage it.
Writing with someone else is great but not as great as friendships and obviously not nearly as great as family relationships! If it stops working then stop.
Play to your strengths.
So, for example Honor is dyslexic and swerves the copyedit stage like it’s a vipers’ picnic – Perdita (with years of lawyer training to fall back on) doesn’t mind those bits. Honor prefers writing action and anarchically funny scenes to softer and slower scenes. We both like writing dialogue.
Accept that you won’t always agree on everything
and that the process of disagreement is useful for making the book better. (As a rule of thumb, when we disagree about something, the one who feels the most strongly wins the day.)
Collaboration doesn’t necessarily mean that a book will get written faster.
It will depend how you work – our ‘method’ is quite time consuming and if anything, we probably take longer to write together than we would separately. For us, it’s worth it for the added energy on the page and the joy of a project shared.