I’m very pleased to host debut Jennifer Ridyard who has just collaborated with John Connolly on the book Conquest talking about what it’s like:
Writing has always been a rather solitary craft – scribes starving in garrets, hermits penning great literary works, author retreats atop mountains, the alcoholic genius scribbling away in musty isolation until the pub opens…
And then there’s my first ever published book. Our book. The book I was lucky enough, and crazy enough, to write together with the man I share my house, dogs, children and life with, who just happens to be a bestselling author too.
No, our book was not solitary at all, although sometimes I felt terribly alone in the writing. No doubt he did too.
But how did it start? How does one successful author end up co-writing a book with his journalist-cum-copywriter partner?
As with all good stories, wine may have been involved. He’d been out having lunch with a playwright friend, lunch that turned into dinner that turned into drinks that turned into midnight, and then in he rolled, his face grim.
“I need to ask you something, but you’re going to be very angry,” he said.
I had a little think about what would make me “very angry”.
“If you’re going to ask me to go on diet, I will be very angry,” I said.
“No, it’s worse than that…”
I tapped my foot, ready to be furious.
“Are you asking to have an open relationship, cos I swear I’ll kill you?”
“No, much worse. You’re going to be really cross.”
He looked like he might cry.
“Are you…” I cast around, wondering what could be quite so awful. After all I am a woman who has given birth, twice, and then I had a thought: “Are you going to ask me to have an operation to tighten up, you know, down there?”
He sighed heavily, then it came out in a rush: “No, I’ve had an idea for a book, and I don’t think I have the time to write it, and it’s got a teenage girl in it, and I was wondering if you’d help me, but I know you have your own writing, your own stuff…”
When I’d finished laughing I said yes – of course I did – and asked what this proposed book was to be about?
About the first alien girl to be born on earth after the planet is invaded, apparently. That was all he knew, yet still we began.
Well, he began. I insisted he start it, and then give me an idea of where he wanted it to go. After a few tense weeks he handed my 14 000 words, a page-and-a-half synopsis, and the metaphorical keys to his kingdom.
I commenced reading, big red teacher-pen in hand, and his words seemed typically wonderful but then – there! – he’d put an alien teenager in a pink off-the-shoulder top, her bra-strap showing. No! Surely an advanced civilization would have the good sense not to truss themselves up in cropped Victorian corsetry, I told him.
“Change it then. It’s only the first draft,” he said, and so in I went, writing, splicing, dicing, plotting, adding characters, subtracting bra straps, and rather pleased with myself I was when I handed him back my first completed draft. It was 70 000 magical words long.
“It’s wrong!” he said. And it was. Badly wrong. We had crossed wires and somehow I was writing for a younger audience – Conquest is for older teenagers, not the tweens I’d aimed it at – and this was science fiction, but I’d had great fun throwing in fiction that had no scientific basis whatsoever.
I was heartbroken. Much wine was consumed.
He dived in again and rewrote reams, and then back it came to me and my bruised ego, and I rewrote too because, dammit, I had 20 years experience as a journalist, I’d won writing awards, I had stuff to bring to this party too, and gradually together – though separately, like tennis players in the same game but at opposite ends of the court – we created something that seemed to be a bit like a book.
Then backwards and forwards it went again until finally, after the best part of two years, we have a book that I hope people will be glad to read. To have read.
Perhaps it’s true then, that old writerly cliché that there is no great writing, just great rewriting. Ours is a book rewritten so many times that somewhere along the way we lost the joins that had once seemed so obvious, those cracks where my writing – visual, chatty, anecdotal – and his writing – rich, thoughtful, layered – pushed against each other. Together we created a new landscape, one that neither of us could have formed alone. At least I hope we did.
And now all that remains is for us to sit down at our very separate desks to write part two. I’m not sure there’s enough wine in the world…