Diary of An Accidental Witch

Perdita and Honor Cargill have written a guest post for the FCBG about writing together as a Mother and Daughter team!

On Writing Together

We’ve been writing together since Honor was about sixteen and honestly, we’re both a little surprised that it’s still working. And it is – because if it wasn’t and there was any risk to our relationship (mother and daughter) we’d have stopped!

So how do we do it? Although our personal relationship has of course changed (Honor is twenty-three now and no longer at home) and what we’re writing is different – switching from teen to middle grade – the way we write together is recognisably the same. It’s not a rigorous, far less rigid, process so it’s not easy to explain but in a nutshell:

· We get together and talk (and talk and talk…) until the plot and the characters come alive to us. Because we write in ‘one’ voice, we have to be confident that we have the same world in our heads before we start to put words down.

· Then we choose scenes to get working on (we don’t write strictly chronologically), playing to our strengths. For example, Honor would take the most madcap and chaotically funny scenes but would leave the first run at the gentler or more emotional scenes to Perdita. At this stage, we always work apart (see below!).

· Drafts get emailed between us and we are each other’s first readers and editors. There’s a lot of re-writing and pretty brutal editing. There has to be because what we’re trying to do is smooth it out and have the voice consistent enough that the reader won’t even be aware of the multiple authors. It takes a lot of time but it’s such a fun and stimulating way to work – bouncing ideas off each other – and hopefully some of that comes through on the page!

· Talking of playing to our strengths, Honor swerves the very last copy editing stage because she’s dyslexic and it’s all but impossible for her.

There are plenty of authors writing collaboratively and in a really important sense, every single book is a collaboration (the publishing team doesn’t always get enough credit) but we still get a big reaction when we tell people we write together. From appalled (mother and daughter?! Don’t you want to kill each other?), through bewildered (WHY would you want to do that?) all the way to impressed (Wow – must add Write A Novel to my parenting To-Do list…)

Let’s take each of these in turn…

The risk of bloodshed

This is a real and ever present risk that we get around by not writing in the same physical space. We read of collaborators sitting opposite each other at the same desk and we know we couldn’t do that. We tried it once on a train journey between

London and Newcastle and came close to dissolving the partnership by York. The temptation to look over each other’s shoulders and interfere was just too strong.

It’s a mad idea – why would anyone do that?

This is a tricky one to answer partly because there was never a moment when we sat down and discussed forming a partnership and the reasons for it. Our first teen books ‘just happened’ (and yes, we have been doing this for long enough now to know how intensely irritating that must sound). Honor was doing some professional acting, the people she was meeting and the things that were happening were funny and shouting out to be written about. We were together on a very long and boring holiday and somehow we had the bones of the first book together by the time we got back. And by the end of that project the advantages of working together had become apparent – we managed it so we didn’t fight much (see above), we made each other laugh, we played to our different strengths (for Honor – funny dialogue or screwball action, for Perdita, the softer scenes and the editing). We didn’t get blocked at the same time and we had each other as first reader and editor. We shared the ups and the downs and there were plenty of both.

So everyone should write a novel with their kid?

Parenting is immensely difficult without authors swanning around suggesting creative family collaborations should be on the To-Do list. We don’t have some perfect harmonious relationship – but most of our squabbling is done about things other than the books. In fact, one of the nicest things about writing them is that it’s something we do together that is not about family or our personal lives. We have more respect for each other as individuals because we do this professional thing together –we know each other’s strengths and vulnerabilities. It’s been a very equal process and that has helped us see each other as independent adults.

Writing books at all, far less writing with someone else – in your family or not – isn’t going to be for everyone. But doing creative things together with people you’re close to is very special. We’re both working on projects independently (Honor on a non-fiction book for adults on the empress Messalina (Head of Zeus 2023) that couldn’t be further from our collaborative projects) but writing funny children’s books together continues to be a joy.

Diary of An Accidental Witch is published by Little Tiger and is available now.

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