Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Who are These People? by Bill Kirton


The picture prompt for 'January'.


Earlier this year, in May, I wrote a blog about collaborative writing, recommending it as an exercise for writers of all sorts. At the time, I was looking at the topic only from the point of view of the writer. The blog drew only one (anonymous) response from a writer who claimed she/he would be incapable of such collaboration and made the very valid point (which I’d omitted) that ‘it must come down to being in sympathy with your fellow writer and having trust in them’. I think both my collaborator, Eden Baylee, and I had taken for granted that that was the case and it was only the anonymous comment that made me recognise its truth and how necessary such trust is. (So thank you, Anon.)

More recently, though, thanks to an email from a writer friend here in Scotland, I’ve been reflecting again on the process and how a different aspect of it might affect not the writer, but the reader. The collaboration was for a monthly podcast in which contributors are asked to write and record a 5-7 minute story on a particular theme and/or picture. I’ve now co-written five such stories with Eden, who lives in Toronto. We’ve never met, but we get on very well and we both agree that’s it’s not only been fun but also instructive, making us think more critically about the actual process of writing.

My writer friend in Scotland listened to the podcasts and wrote to me of one of them ‘it was so perceptive, sensitive and moving. I almost couldn’t get to the end but I did’. She then ended with ‘Eden’s voice and your voice dovetail perfectly’.

The story she was referring to, Selfie Love, was in the form of an exchange of emails. Eden and I didn’t discuss the topic or say anything about how we’d approach it. We each had the picture above and the theme ‘January’. I wrote an opening, sent it to Eden, she developed it, sent it back, and it ping-ponged across the Atlantic twice more for further developments before we made the agreed recordings, I spliced them together and it went to the mastermind behind the podcasts, R. B Wood, in Boston.

But my friend’s final comment set me thinking. With a podcast (which is obviously in audio), you hear the writers saying the actual words of their story (and their characters), so it’s perhaps easy to identify writer with character–- especially in an email exchange, phone conversation or any other format involving two characters and just their voices as they communicate directly with one another. In turn that led to a minor exchange (a very friendly one) between Eden and myself about how such identification could be avoided by using a 3rd person narrator approach and how to confront the problem of doing that as two writers. Our most recent collaboration, which we delivered via a video recording at Readercon in Boston last month, was our first attempt at an answer (although, paradoxically, the first story we’d ever written together was in the 3rd person, perhaps confirming that ‘There’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’).

Again, our joint effort seems to have worked, and it was fun. We learn all the time. In fact, the whole idea of collaboration is making me think so much about writing that I have less time to do any, so I may be able to give it up altogether.

If you have a few minutes to spare and would like to hear Selfie Love, it’s in episode 62 of R B Wood’s The Word Count Podcast, beginning at about 00.32.06 on the recording.

Also, if any of you have co-written something, or found yourselves being identified by readers, critics et al, with one or more of your characters, please share the experience with us.

3 comments:

Sandra Horn said...

Intriguing! I wish I knew someone who might like to give it a go! I hope the 'giving it up' sentiment was tongue-in-cheek....the World needs more Bill Kirton, not less.

Umberto Tosi said...

Fascinating. I much enjoyed "Selfie Love," an intriguing moving love story. You show what can be done with the form. My Eleanor and I have played with collaborations, but never in such a deliberate way. Our efforts have been to prompt each other's independent works. In any case, keep up the fine work!

Bill Kirton said...

Thanks,Both. One thing I didn't add is that, knowing that someone else is waiting for your copy in order to get writing generates a compulsion to write which, for me at least, isn't always as strong as I'd like it to be.

Sandra, I think perhaps my collaboration with Eden works because our lives and writing don't overlap in any other areas. Effectively, we're complete strangers - and being on different continents helps, too. And yet, having said that, the writing of one's own part of the story is still the same, solitary pursuit (albeit having to accommodate story developments not of one's own imagining). I think, therefore, that it might work equally well between friends - although it might colour the nature of the relationship. In fact, Umberto might be a better person to ask about this, given his working with Eleanor).

Umberto, thanks for listening. We contribute these stories (alone or together) every month and rarely get any feedback from anyone 'outside the circle'. Your thoughts are always appreciated.