Writing partnerships: why two heads can be better than one.
Unlike songwriting duos, writing partnerships are rare. There's Nicci French, the husband-and-wife team who have been knocking out a thriller a year for the past decade. There are new kids on the block Saffina Desforges, in real life Sarah Griffiths and Mark Williams, who have been sitting at the summit of the UK Kindle chart for months with Sugar & Spice. And of course there is James Patterson and a parade of writers who do all the work in exchange for having their name in tiny letters on the cover of his latest schlockbuster.
Writers are supposed to work in solitude, hunched over a laptop surrounded by half-empty cups of cold coffee while they wrestle with their personal demons and howl into the great void... before going online and checking their Amazon rankings just one more time.
It doesn't have to be like that. My experience of writing with Louise Voss, which has so far led to two books, Killing Cupid (available in one good online bookshop) and Catch Your Death (watch this space).
Back in 2002 I was near the end of phase one of what I grandly think of as my writing life. I had recently been dumped by my agent (by letter; I'm sure these days she would have done it on Facebook) after a series of near misses with publishers. Louise, meanwhile, was halfway through her contract with Transworld/Black Swan. One evening, while gawping at celebs at the Groucho, we came up with the idea of writing a novel together.
I have no recollection of whose idea it was but like all the best brainwaves we were sure it must have been done before: a stalker novel in which the tables turn and the stalker becomes the stalked. We checked Amazon. No, it hadn't been done. We brainstormed a rudimentary plot and started writing.
It was a delightfully straightforward process. I wrote a chapter as the male protaganist, Alex, and emailed it to Louise, along with a few ideas for what happened next. She would edit my chapter then do the same, writing as Siobhan, the female protaganist. The process meant that we were both motivated to write quickly and to a high standard. And we were constantly surprised by what happened next.
Halfway through writing Killing Cupid I moved to Japan to teach English. But I was determined not to let Louise down; besides, this was the most fun I'd ever had writing. I remember my first morning in Tokyo, jetlagged and disoriented, sitting on the tatami mat in an unfurnished boarding house, writing the next chapter of the book on my laptop.
We had already discovered that Transworld were not interested in the book as they didn't want to publish anything that was not in Louise's normal genre of mainstream women's fiction. Her agent wasn't that interested either. However, a meeting with a BBC producer uncovered a big fan of the novel-in-progress. In fact, this producer – who went on to win a BAFTA – loved it so much she optioned it. For the first time I had actually earned a reasonable sum for something I'd written, and we were convinced the option would act as juicy bait for hungry publishers.
When we finished Killing Cupid – the final third of the book flowed as easily as water from a tap – we were sure we were going to be the next Nicci French. But the book commits that unforgiveable crime of not fitting neatly into one genre. It's half thriller, half comedy. We couldn't find a publisher. Then the TV adaptation went into development hell. I came back from Japan and life as an unpublished writer went on.
The experience of writing together, though, had been such good fun that we decided to give it another go. This time we would write something that fitted into a genre. It was shortly after the SARS outbreak and just before bird flu became big news. And The Da Vinci Code was massive. Louise had been thinking about setting a novel in an interesting setting: a closed-down common cold research centre near her hometown of Salisbury where, in the eighties, volunteers could spend a week blowing their nose and doing a lot of good for science. This all came together into Catch Your Death, a fast-paced conspiracy thriller.
But this time we hardly made an effort to find a publisher. We finished the book the same week my first daughter was born. Our own personal lives were chaotic. Real life got in the way. The book, although rather brilliant if I do say so myself, went on the shelf.
Skip forward a few years and the Kindle arrived. I persuaded Louise that we should publish the books ourselves. We re-wrote them, updating all the creaky technological references and lypo-suctioning the fat. This February, we published Killing Cupid. It has so far sold around 400 copies, attracted some great reviews and, excitingly, the BBC producer who liked the book the first time around has since set up her own film production company and wants to option it. Catch Your Death will hit Amazon in May.
And the rest is the future.
Thanks, Mark - I feel sure it is only a matter of time till Killing Cupid reaches the Amazon Kindle top 100.