Article published on April 28, 2016.
It was with great relish that I read fellow contributor, Mike, AKA Mr BookNoir’s, post on literary collaborations. As with the best articles, it got me thinking. Unfortunately a bit too much. As in rather than concentrating on work, I was contemplating what collaborations I’d read, and more importantly the literary dream teams I’d like to see in action. But you’re forgiven Mike because it really is a fascinating area when you really delve into it.
I’ve read a couple of writing collaborations and I must say the small sample I’ve experienced, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. Namely Jimmy Tait and Laura Rice, who write contemporary fiction, and contribute alternative chapters from the voices of the main male and female protagonist. Lucy Ivison and Tom Ellen take a similar approach in their YA novels. And in both instances, I’ve felt the partnership has really added to the novels. Unfortunately that’s where it ends in terms of what I’ve read, and admittedly limited in terms of genre. I am aware of a few other writing partnerships – the Swedish crime-writing duo Rosland and Hellstrom, Lars Kepler – the pseudonym for husband and wife duo, contemporary women’s fiction duos Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke and Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, and I particularly like the idea of the mother-daughter collaboration of Jodi and Samantha Van Leer, who’ve penned two novels, Between the Lines and Off the Page.
Of course, there’s also been the retellings, which are in their own way collaborations of modern authors with past authors; the Jane Austen series with writers including Val McDermid and most recently Curtis Sittenfeld, and of course the Hogarth Shakespeare, which has seen Jeanette Winterson and Howard Jacobson so far ‘collaborate’ with the bard. Personally, I’d like to see similar happening with each of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: who best to choose for the Wife of Bath, the Merchant, the Reeve et al? Perhaps even a YA Canterbury Tales for the modern era. But I’m digressing, for as much as these retellings are part of the process of communicating between authors, they’re not the same as actual collaborations. Mike’s right about the relative lack of writing partnerships, and from what I’ve read of writing duos, it’s a shame there aren’t indeed more.
So I decided, following Mike’s lead, to get my proverbial thinking cap on and see what treats we’ve been missing out on. I began naturally by perusing my own book shelves and, applying the scientific rigour of a bibliophile, I closed my eyes and picked two random titles [Ed: Nice one, Jade.]. It didn’t always work given that my shelves are arranged in no order whatsoever, with non-fiction titles scattered amongst classics, scattered amongst dictionaries, scattered amongst fiction, and even when I hit on two fiction authors, the results were questionable: Cervantes and Stephenie Meyer. (Obviously, unlike Mike, I’m allowing for the possibility of time-travel in my writing duos, as well as all other competing factors). Don Quixote does vampires. Hmm? But before you raise your eyebrows, I’ve got one thing to say: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Well, make of that what you will. Perhaps my methodology wasn’t the best.
So to phase two: I couldn’t go wrong with my trusty Good Reading Guide. Deploying a similarly exacting technique, I used the old flick and stop method and my outcomes were thus: Susan Hill and Dorothy Sayers; Jim Crace and Anthony Trollope; Philip K Dick and Orhan Pamuk; Jane Austen and Raymond Chandler; and Jeanette Winterson and Patrick O’Brien. As a final test, I decided to simply work through the book from beginning to end, to see who was matched with whom, alphabetically. This system came up with the following: Asimov and Kate Atkinson; Balzac and Iain Banks; George Eliot and Brett Easton Ellis; Gogol and William Golding; Thomas Hardy and Joanne Harris; Victor Hugo and Aldous Huxley; James Joyce and Franz Kafka; D H Lawrence and John Le Carre; Henning Mankell and Thomas Mann; Jean-Paul Sartre and Dorothy L Sayers; Zadie Smith and Solzhenitsyn; Mark Twain and Anne Tyler. Now I was getting somewhere, despite the seemingly random method. And although some of the pairings may have seemed somewhat odd, nay even impossible, it made me wonder whether a collaboration should be about similarity or difference? Bringing together two writers who complement each other, generically, stylistically and thematically, or throwing together two seemingly diverse writers and seeing what would come of a collaboration? And I actually think I’m veering towards the latter (although my own selections, which we’ll come to, may seem to suggest otherwise). I think there has to be some degree of difference to really push the collaboration to its potential. Too much divergence however may go too far, but I’m not sure, maybe pairing up an author noted for writing sci-fi, with one noted for contemporary YA for instance, may in fact create something – a contemporary sci-fi YA? – that, to excuse the pun, would be out of this world.
As for me, I managed to settle on my own collaborative dream teams as follows, some obviously more feasible than the others: Nicholas Sparks and Adele Parks – for a romance/passion overload; Geoffrey Chaucer and David Mitchell – for the ultimate multi-thread narrative; Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte – romantic meets Gothic; Daphne Du Maurier and Audrey Niffenegger – a bit left of centre but two extraordinary writers who would surely create something memorable; Louise O’Neill and Holly Bourne – two of my favourite YA authors from different ends of the contemporary spectrum; Cecelia Ahern and David Nicholls – PS I Love You meets One Day, need I say more; and Lindsey Kelk and Helen Fielding. I’m sure I’ll come up with some more, now I’ve had my eyes opened to the possibilities, it’s quite frankly overwhelming. I must admit I do sometimes wonder what a book would have looked like if it had been written by a different author. And collaborative writing offers the possibility of seeing not just a different version, but potentially the version 2.0. After all, it’s not without reason, there’s a saying two heads are better than one. But there’s an equally pertinent saying, too many cooks, and as writing has largely become the pursuit of the individual, maybe too many cooks in some cases may in fact be two. Indeed, collaborative writing may not suit all writers, nor should it take precedence over individual writing. But whether it be a one-off or turn into something more consistent, it would be nice to see some of our favourite writers joining forces and seeing what transpires. I echo Mike in hoping that authors and publishers give collaborations a go.
Talk of the Toun by Helen MacKinven
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