This week I dropped in for a drink with a friend to discuss our latest collaboration. Sue is an artist who has collaborated with me on three previous books of poems, all written about a beautiful place that we have both known and loved for decades. We’ve decided on a final hurrah, which is both daunting and exciting. It’s a serious commitment, involving a lot of work for both of us. But there is strength in that ‘us’, and we will support and encourage each other as we go along. We like and respect each other’s work, and we know that although there will be frank discussions, there will be no arguments. I think we can both look forward to a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
But what about collaborating with another writer? This would be anathema to many – perhaps most – writers. After all, we pride ourselves on our individual ‘voice’, surely something that cannot be shared? But many writers have done exactly that – even Shakespeare (though the scholars can usually identify which lines are his). As it happens, I have just finished a collaboration with a friend and fellow author, and found it both a pleasure and a very efficient way of getting a task completed.
It started when I showed Alex a prose story for children. He liked the central character, but thought he could see why I wasn’t having any success finding a publisher. Months passed while we both got on with other things. But then, out of the blue, Alex sent me a new version of the story. But he’d re-cast it in verse. Why hadn’t I thought of that? After all, I’m the poet.
I loved it, and we were soon batting revised couplets back and forth until we judged we had finished. Alex happens to be friends with a very successful children’s book illustrator and had always wanted to do a book with him. This looked like it.
But it wasn’t. While liking the main character, he just didn’t think the story strong enough.
After another lengthy break, Alex came back with a wholly new storyline. I was delighted to see what I now regarded as ‘our’ character in an entirely different setting, and off we went again, in a sort of rhyming ping-pong, until we had produced something we were really pleased with. The only trouble was, we’d got rather over-enthusiastic and produced something of epic proportions.
Great story, we were told, but far too long. Back to the drawing board – in the hope of finally getting it to the drawing board. Which we have now done, at least to our satisfaction.
Whether it finds favour or not, I am convinced that I would not have got to this stage on my own. And I think Alex would say that without the original story he wouldn’t have got around to writing a story that he could offer to his illustrator friend. Collaboration was not only fun and stimulating: it was a way of working towards an end which otherwise would not have been achieved.
And that, of course, is how the ghostwriting process works – through collaboration. I am just starting on a ghosted memoir, and am filling my notebook with dozens of questions to ask my client as part of the voyage of discovery that we will be making together over the coming months. As I said above, the prospect is both daunting and exciting!