I haven't done a Why of Writing post in a while, and I always love hearing about other authors and how they write. So when two of my long-time blog readers, Charley and Miriam, told me they were coming out with a book, I became very excited. And when they asked if they could do a guest post, I jumped at the chance to learn more about St Mallory's Forever!
St. Mallory's Forever with Charley Robson and Miriam Joy
How does one go about writing a blog post collaboratively? You’d think we would be in the ideal position to do so, as we’ve spent a year and half doing just that (more on that in a moment), but nope. We still ended up just talking nonsense on Skype and putting it into plural first person – always a weird experience.
But who are ‘we’? We’re Charley Robson and Miriam Joy—you might have seen us around the blog (which is a lovely place, by the way) as Miriam submitted an acrylic painting to Miriam Forster’s cover competition last year, and Charley won a couple of books. We’re two teenage writers who collaboratively wrote a book called St Mallory’s Forever! with e-book bestsellers Saffina Desforges, and it just came out this month.
When we approached Miriam Forster about writing a guest post, she mentioned a series called ‘The Why Of Writing’, or why we write what we write. Generally we both write because it’s the only way to make the voices in our heads shut up, but St Mallory’s Forever! had a more specific start.
You see, Mark (one half of the Saffina Desforges writing partnership—yep, there are two of them!) has always wanted to write a boarding school novel, a kind of updated Enid Blyton. There aren’t really any boarding school books these days that aren’t (a) magical, like Hogwarts or (b) a non-realistic set up, like the spies of Gallagher Girls. Clearly, however, Mark couldn’t write one without inside information. And as he’d recently come across Miriam’s blog and asked her to guest post for him (and through her, met Charley), he thought he knew who to ask…
Charley’s a boarding school veteran, you see. And Miriam, well, she’s spent her life in the state school system but she’s fairly good at keeping up.
It was a bit out of our usual comfort zones, which are mainly centred around fantasy (urban and otherwise), so it took a while to get into, especially as it’s written in the style of blog posts from the main characters, a sort of updated ‘diary’ format. We also had three individual voices. Miriam’s expertise lay with Helen, the newbie who plays every instrument under the sun, while Charley’s was with Abby, an old hand at St Mall’s. Neither of us really knew how to write Xuan, as neither of us are multilingual or Chinese, but we got there in the end—with help from Mark.
And it took a lot longer to write than we’d expected.
Being at school, we both had exams, GCSEs for Miriam and AS Levels for Charley. Midway through 2012, Charley shoved the totality of her existence into cardboard boxes and moved to Germany with her family. Plus, being a musician and a dancer, Miriam had a bunch of shows to do, either playing (and seriously, whose idea was it to tell her to take up the mandolin as well) or dancing, which required rehearsals and performances.
So it basically took a year and a half to write, even though Miriam’s the sort of person who writes first drafts in two weeks and Charley isn’t much slower. It’s tricky with collaborative writing: we forget who wrote what and when it happened, and whether there was originally a chapter here because it’s been mysteriously left blank, and does anybody actually remember the music teacher’s name? As for the librarian, she changed names (and genders) at least twice.
It was also a lot easier to work out the actual mystery with several people to bounce ideas off, as neither Charley nor Miriam has ever written a mystery before with any degree of success. We’re sure the long breaks are to blame for the continuity issues in the first draft—not to mention the fact it existed in about eight different documents and only ever came together as a complete story when we’d finished the first draft and Miriam sat down to source every chapter and put them together.
But as is probably obvious, it really took all of us to pull it through. We can write, but we’re newbies to the world of publishing, and that’s where Mark and Saffi (Saffina Desforges when together) came in. As well as being our guru on the publishing side, Mark kept us supplied with lots of hilarious emails, which is essential given the Moods of Eternal Gloom that crept up on us both when in the depths of revision.
We had a habit of sneaking our favourite things into the story. Charley’s no use with music, but she’d be damned if she wouldn’t get a Monty Python reference in there. Though we can’t tell who was responsible for the first quote, after a few nods in the direction of Sherlock it quickly deteriorated into a nerd-out between Charley and Miriam.
Star Trek. Doctor Who. Lord of the Rings. Doctor Who. Lord of the Rings. Star Trek. More Star Trek.
On a more serious note, the nerdy references had a purpose to them. The characters weren’t the kind we usually work with in our solo writing (Miriam’s are bitter and broken, usually resulting in tragedy, and Charley’s have a snap response to hit things with swords) so adding little ways of relating to them made them easier to work with. Also, nerdy protagonists in YA fiction are fairly rare. Often the geeky characters are there for comic relief, so we wanted that to be a facet of the main characters’ personalities without being their entire existence.
Charley suggested naming the sequel “St Mallory’s: REVENGE OF THE NERD”.
Sequel? Yes, we have plans for a series. Well, plans is the wrong word. Intentions might be better, as both Charley and I have an aversion to actually planning things before we write them—another thing to tackle when writing collaboratively.
To sum up, we wrote the book because Mark suggested it, and also because it was fun and a little step out of our comfort zones and hey, try anything once except incest, right?
[Charley: And balrog wrestling. Not recommended either. No way.]Anyway, that’s the long and short of it. Well, more long than short—apologies for that! But then, there are two of us.
Miriam: Behave yourself, Charley. There are only so many times in a blog post we can scream TOTAL NERDS at the readers and expect them to take us seriously.
[Charley: They take us seriously?]
Looks like we managed to write a collaborative blog post in the end. Just goes to show you can do most things if you try. You know, like bestselling authors teaming up with teenagers to write a book when none of them had ever met. We managed that one as well.
St Mallory's Forever! is currently available in Kindle format at Amazon UK and Amazon US. You can also check out Charley's blog, Miriam's blog and the St Mallory website.