Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Collaboration


It’s trite to say that writing is a solitary occupation, but it’s usually true. However, there is more scope for collaborative writing than is often appreciated, and I must say that I very much enjoy writing in collaboration, and I've written several books (including one novel, The Lazarus Widow) with one or more other writers. After all, if it worked for Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lennon and McCartney and Bacharach and David, why can’t it work with novels?

In the crime genre, there have been quite a few notable writing teams over the years. Two cousins working together made the name of Ellery Queen famous, while in Britain, the names Manning Coles and Francis Beeding concealed pairs of writers. In the 60s and 70s, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo wrote the Martin Beck series, while in the States, two female writers combined to produced the finance-based Emma Lathen mysteries. Behind the pseudonyms of Patrick Quentin, Jonathan Stagge and Q. Patrick hid Hugh Wheeler – better known later for his work on musicals – and a variety of associates. Dick Francis collaborated with his wife Mary on his racing thrillers, although her name did not appear on the books – it’s different now that he is writing with his son.

Nowadays there are plenty of examples of writing teams. Nicci French is a notable husband and wife pairing, while Charles Todd writes with his mother Caroline. There are even crime writing twins – the Mulgray Twins.

‘Round-robin’ novels involve an especially elaborate form of collaboration, where a story is told by a succession of different authors. The Detection Club’s The Floating Admiral is a very famous example, but there are plenty of others, including a 19th century curiosity, The Fate of Fenella, whose contributors include Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker. Intriguingly enough, I was asked a while back to contribute to a round-robin novel. Whether it will see the light of day, I’m not sure – but it’s an appealing idea.

17 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I know 2 sets of husband and wife writing teams. Jim and Joyce Lavene and the couple that makes up Cleo Coyle. They've got it down to a science, though--they've been doing it for years.

I think it would be challenging to *start* writing that way when you're used to just coming up with 100% of your material.

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Maxine said...

The author P J Tracy is a mother and daughter team, I believe.

Another series I rather like is by G Ephron (I think?) - it is about a US clinical psychologist who likes rowing and lives with his mother, and the titles are things like Guilt (always one word). One of the authors is an Ephron (as in Nora but it isn't Nora) and the other is a clinical psychologist.

There is also a kind of reverse trend, if you look at James Patterson ;-)

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - There is defintely a lot to be said for collaborative writing. As I'm sure you know, scholarly writing is often done that way, and it can add a lot of valuable insight, depth, etc., to a book when there are multiple perspectives. As Elizabeth says, though, it is a challenge to collaborate when one's only done one's own writing. I know I had to make adjustments when I co-authored a scholarly book after my first was solo authored. It's a very interesting way to go, though, both in fiction and nonfiction.

R. T. said...

"Michael Gregorio" offers readers the superb mystery series featuring Hanno Stiffeniis, the Kant protege in Prussia during Napoleon's invasion. In "real life," Michael Jacobs (teacher of English) and wife Daniela De Gregorio (teacher of philosophy) live in Spoleto, Italy, and have together written (at least) three Stiffeniis novels. I interviewed the couple for an article in Mystery News (which has since gone out of business, though not because of my articles), and I never did quite figure out how they divided the labor as team-writers. That is, I think, the real mystery in every writing team: Whodunnit?

Martin Edwards said...

Elizabeth, do those husband and wife teams write alternate chapters, as I think French and Gerrard do, or collaborate in a different way?

Martin Edwards said...

Maxine, you're right about PJ Tracy - I didn't know about the Eprhon duo. And as for the Patterson 'factory', it is a phenomenon in itself!

Martin Edwards said...

Margot, I once worked with two other lawyers on a book by discussing issues with them, which were then written up by two researchers. It was an interesting experience, but probably not one I would ever repeat.

Martin Edwards said...

R.T., you're right, the 'whodunit' issue is fascinating. I haven't read Gregorio yet, I must admit.

Bernadette in Australia said...

The three or four Lincoln Preston books that I've read (by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child working together) are better than anything I've read by just one of the authors.

I've thoroughly enjoyed the two recent 'round robin' audio books that the International Thriller Writers Association has sponsored - The Chopin Manuscript and The Copper Bracelet - you can tell the authors had fun writing this way.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for this info, Bernadette. I don't know the Lincoln Child books and in particular I hadn't heard of the ITW round-robins. I shall certainly seek out the latter to add to my collection.

Dorte H said...

Just a year ago I would probably have said I would never be able to write a novel together with anyone. I know that I am quite stubborn and don´t give in easily when I think I am right. But this summer one of my writing course friends contacted me and suggested we write a crime novel together - because I was so good at plotting! Well, it is too early to say if it was a good idea or not, but she persuaded me to try, and so far it has been fun to work together with someone else. We write each our chapters, though, but the final chapters will have to be in close cooperation.

Maxine said...

A couple more:
Roslund Hellstrom and Michael Stanley. I've not yet read Hellstrom but they have recently won a prestigious award - on the basis of some blog reviews I will give them a try. Michael Stanley - I enjoyed their first Inspector Kubu book very much, and will probably read the second (now out I think). They have also recently started blogging, on a shared blog. Their book reminded me a bit of Hammond Innes, but tighter and more accent on the detecting than on the adventure. Jolly good stuff.

Maxine said...

Just found the location of the "Michael Stanley" blog, Martin. http://murderiseverywhere.blogspot.com/2009/12/conundrums-or-is-it-conundra.html
It is worth following - it is a group of crime fiction authors, including the very dryly funny Yrsa Sigurdadottir.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Dorte - that collaboration definitely sounds like one to look forward to!

Martin Edwards said...

Maxine - thanks for these, and the link; two more authors I've not encountered as yet.

Anonymous said...

There's an interesting comparison to be made here with the genres of fantasy and science fiction. Almost every major writer in those fields seems to collaborate openly and enthusiastically with her/his fellow-authors.
Sometimes this takes the form of writing solo novels or short stories all set in the same imaginary world (or universe). Sometimes two or even three writers collaborate on one book or on each book in a series.
In a way, joint-authorship of this kind is the direct opposite of the Ellery Queen/Charles Todd examples, since the writers aren't hiding their individual identities under a pseudonym. This seems a great marketing ploy since the books will appeal to the fans of each of the writers involved. But it wouldn't work if the authors didn't feel comfortable with the form. Perhaps fantasy/sf writers are a more gregarious lot than crime writers!

Martin Edwards said...

Anonymous - thank you, this is a fascinating point, which has never occurred to me, perhaps because I don't read much sci-fi, and virtually no fantasy. But it's thought-provoking.