Jane Richards has been a journalist and editor at The Sydney Morning Herald for 25 years. Jenny Crocker is trained in communications and currently works for the NSW Government creating awareness campaigns. With a background in theatre and business, Denise Tart is now a civil celebrant. Neither they nor their two co-authors had published fiction before collaborating on their novel, The Painted Sky, which was published by Random House in 2015. Since publication, they have toured Australia and beyond, sharing their insights at writers’ festivals and centres, libraries, bookstores and special events.
How did the idea come about for the five members of your book club to co-write a novel?
It had something to do with Dostoevsky and vodka. We were a group of friends with a shared love of reading – practiced in pulling apart other people’s writing and always on the lookout for a good story. We were enjoying a weekend away in Blackheath ostensibly discussing Crime and Punishment. ‘We must go to Russia together and read this on the Trans-Siberian railway!’ we exclaimed. But how? ‘I know,’ called one of us. ‘Let’s write a bestseller!’ We immediately pulled out pens and paper and a few hours later, we were on track. To our surprise we just kept on going.
What was one challenging aspect of the collaborative writing process?
One of the challenges was learning to leave our egos at the door. Part of our process is to break a chapter up into short scenes, divide them up and write them individually. We then bring those back to the group for reading and review. Of course, this is only possible when there is real trust in the group. You have to know that suggestions and improvements that others put forward are not criticisms of your talent, but are made in the spirit of making the book the very best it can be. Our feedback strategies are one of the most important things we’ll be sharing with future group fiction writers.
Do you think collaborative writing would work for many writers?
Many creative people are just not suited to locking themselves away in a room for a year with only a computer and their thoughts for company. Others just don’t have the confidence or endurance to keep on writing in a vacuum. We’re sure a lot of talented writers have missed their calling because of those circumstances. In a group, you will always have someone to encourage you when you start flagging, or to fix up a stretch of writing you can’t seem to get right. You also need to have really good systems that everybody sticks to religiously. We know that collaborative fiction writing can work provided there are clear ways of operating – not least, version control!
Want to learn more about writing as part of a group? Join the ladies for their Collaborative Writing seminar, held on Thursday 26 May, 6:30pm-9:30pm at the NSW Writers’ Centre.