Collaborating as a writer is a gift. Doesn’t mean it’s easy.
I’ve collaborated with many people over the years, in professional writing, academic pieces and creative works. Some of those collaborations have been great fun, stimulating and, ultimately, successful. Others have not.
My first military history, An Average Pilot written with Luca Lazzara, is an example of a good collaboration. He had the research and the passion for a story and I had the know-how and determination to turn it into a book. That made for a solid writing partnership. This didn’t mean it was easy as he was working in his second language (I say that, but his English is more precise than mine and his ability to make a joke in English floors me every time) and we lived in different countries, both doing demanding full-time jobs. That’s when a writing partnership comes into its own: you can take up the slack when one person has other commitments.
I’ve also got a comedy-crime-caper and two sitcoms languishing in a drawer that I wrote with my wonderful friend, Jackie Short. We created all of these as a way of escaping the challenges in our lives and it was a cathartic, uplifting experience to work with another writer of such talent, integrity, and wit. I doubt that I’ll ever find someone who was such a good ‘fit’ for the way I write fiction because we trusted each other implicitly to challenge, check, and change our words. She died before we had chance to finish these works. This was one of the greatest losses in my life: I lost my best friend and the person who knew and believed in my writing better than anyone else. I told you that writing with someone wasn’t easy, and losing your writing soulmate is the hardest thing.
When I was working on my doctorate, I had a Canadian writing partner, Jeannie Flynn, who was working in a similar research field. We were both feminist educators in non-feminist environments (prisons and the military). That led for some lively conversations and a series of conference papers on the challenges we faced. Working together gave us breadth of research data as well as a way to check and interrogate our thinking before sharing it with the wider academic community. I found that invaluable in developing my own research portfolio and in building my confidence to present myself as an academic writer.
Then there was the disastrous four-year project to ghost write the memoir of an ex-special forces operator. Painful story short, I made the mistake of mentoring him to become a writer and to take his (thousands and thousands of) contorted words to turn into a readable story. It was spotted by a publisher, contracts were issued, and then my ‘partner’ decided that he’d written the book and tried to sell it without me. Thank goodness for a publisher with integrity who alerted me to what was going on so that I could ensure the book I’d written wasn’t stolen by my ‘partner’.
This was followed by an abortive attempt to collaborate with a soldier who had served in The Falklands. It became apparent quite quickly that this was someone who wasn’t a reliable writing partner and I stepped away gracefully. But it has given me an idea for a fictionalised novella in flash which will find its way to the top of the ‘to be written’ pile one day.
The journal I created, Moments of Joy, was exactly that: a joy to create. I had the immense good fortune to share my initial draft with a close friend, Annamaria Pellegrino, who said, ‘leave it with me for a few days’. She then designed the layout to turn my fragments of poetry into a thing of beauty. This set of a chain reaction of ideas so that we now have a series of five (and growing) books in progress. Annamaria made an idea a reality and became that person who believed in me enough to want to work with me, over and over.
And now I’m collaborating again. This time with someone who is not a great friend or a long-term colleague but someone I met through studying and whose story needs to be told. It is a project that has to stay under wraps while we research it and it is one of the hardest projects I have ever collaborated on. That makes me want to do it all the more. Yes, I’m strange like that.
To quote one of my own poems, The Heat of Attraction ‘I’m a collaborator, and I hold out my hand to you.’ If you’re interested in writing collaborations, or you’ve completed one and would like to share it, please contact me on social media using the hashtags #WritingCollaboration #WritingCommunity to highlight your work.
You can find me via Twitter/X and FaceBook @MarvellousMinds and Instagram and Threads @MarvellousMindsCreatives