Have you ever imagined what it would be like to write a story with another person? What about doing an experimental writing task in your class? Would it be inspiring? How would you share the responibilities? How well do co-authors need to know each other?
One of our favourite stories in the Helbling Fiction series, The Albatross (illustrated by Francesca Protopapa ) was written by two childhood friends, Scott Lauder and Walter McGregor. We chatted to Scott and Walter about their writing experiences, and they gave us some advice about shared writing.
Helbling Readers (HR): When did you start writing stories together?
Walter: We have known each other since we were five years old. You could say it all started way back then but only with making up and telling each other stories. The writing part came much later in life when we had a bit more confidence to write our stories down and show them to others.
HR: What was your very first written story about?
Scott: I knew someone who was walking home very late one night through a wood. He was on a path near a river; and next to the river, there were some houses. Suddenly, a man came out of a house and climbed down the riverbank. The person I knew watched from the shadows as the man began to dig. Once he finished digging, he took something out of his pocket, put it in the hole, covered it with soil and went back into the house. The river was too deep to cross, so the person I knew never discovered what the man had buried…The first story that Walter and I wrote together was about this strange episode! It is called ‘The Sand Write’ and it is still one of our favourites.
Walter: The ideas that we both can have as a story progresses can interfere with the original idea and we have to be careful to protect the original story’s coherence. Also, finding enough hours in the day can be difficult: both Scott and I work full-time. A final difficulty is that Scott is in the UAE, whereas I am in the UK.
HR: Do you have any advice for friends who want to write together?
Scott: I think writing with someone else can be a challenge – we don’t always see eye to eye. If one of us has an idea that the other isn’t keen on, that person has to make a case for the idea’s inclusion. Because all our ideas are subject to this process, I think our stories emerge stronger than they would do otherwise. I also think that taking a joint authorship approach is especially useful if you are novices (which I think Walter and I are). So if there is any advice I can give, it is this: embrace the friction and the added scrutiny that comes from writing together!
HR: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Walter: I like to sketch – but strictly for my own pleasure. Scott and I both like hillwalking and reading.
HR: Do you have any literary role models?
Scott: Two books that really impressed me recently (for similar reasons) were The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and The Bunker Diary. The former, written by the Irish writer, John Boyne, is very poignant: the prose is exquisite and the themes are huge. The latter, written by Kevin Brooks, which both Walter and I read and enjoyed, dealt with a challenging theme – the kidnapping and imprisonment of a young adult – with tremendous skill.
Walter: A story can be done quickly or take a long time. It just depends on what we are writing about. Sometimes the story is simple and comes easily but a more complex story line definitely takes longer. We have written some historical fiction and the research part of that was definitely the hardest part of writing it. For the story that we are working on currently – which is provisionally titled ‘A Single Shot’ (the follow up to The Right Thing, which is about to go to print) – we had to do some research about Paris. That wasn’t so difficult. On average, our stories take about five or six months to write.
HR: Can you tell us a little about the new story you’ve written for Helbling Readers?
Scott: The Right Thing is about a letter that three teenagers find on the street. The letter has been thrown out of a window, but there is an address on it. The three teenagers don’t know it yet, but by deciding to deliver the letter, they are about to set in motion a series of events that will eventually lead to the downfall of the British Prime Minister. It’s a story about greed, corruption, murder…and about doing the right thing, even when that puts your life in danger.
Thank you for the interview!